Insights Online pornography: UK Government launches legislation review

Current UK legislation regulates the production and distribution of adult pornography and creates a number of criminal offences in relation to such pornographic material as well as in relation to illegal pornography, including child sexual exploitation and abuse material. Further, under the Online Safety Act 2023, providers of pornographic content online now have a duty to ensure, by the use of age verification or age estimation (or both), that children are not normally able to encounter that content.

Much of that legislation relates to offline distribution. In light of the changes in the way we now consume media and interact with online content, the Government has decided to commission an independent review of the existing legislation, and other aspects relating to consumption of pornography, to establish whether the current regime remains fit for purpose. Baroness Gabby Bertin, Vice Chair of the All-Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence and Abuse, will review and make recommendations in relation to a number of relevant areas. These include the prevalence and harmful impact of illegal pornography online and the impact of legal pornography online on viewers, including emerging AI-generated pornography, as well as viewers’ attitudes to violence against women and girls. Baroness Bertin will also review the legal obligations on online pornography providers, including the new Online Safety Act rules, and how they compare to existing physical and broadcast media regulation, to assess the options for aligning the online and offline regulation of pornographic content, and to consider what changes to enforcement or the criminal law may be needed to tackle illegal pornography. The link between modern slavery/human trafficking and the pornography industry will also be examined.

The review is expected to be completed by the Summer of 2024.

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