Minister of State for Mental Health Jim Daly has said the Government should follow in the footsteps of the United Kingdom and introduce strict age verification laws for pornographic websites.
Mr Daly said he fully supports the introduction of so-called ‘porn block’ legislation which requires users of adult websites to verify their age.
The minister said the UK laws were similar to proposals he put forward to introduce online verification codes for social media websites.
“The recent bill passed in the UK that now requires all individuals who want to access pornography websites to verify they are over the age of 18 proves the online verification codes proposal can work and is worth progressing,” said Mr Daly.
“I would ascertain this new law should not be restricted to pornography only – all inappropriate access should be captured,” he added.
The UK laws, which come into effect on July 15, will see users asked to produce passports, driving licences or what are being described as ‘porn passes’ when seeking to access adult websites.
Porn passes will be sold in shops to people who can prove they are old enough to access adult website.
The aim of the age verification laws is to deter young people from accessing pornography images which are impacting on mental health.
The legislation has faced criticism from civil rights groups who have said the new laws could lead to a massive data breach.
There are also fears the Digital Economy Act will force people underground or on to the dark web where they could access illegal content.
Mr Daly faced criticism when he suggested introducing personal codes linked to a person’s PPS number for accessing social media websites.
The tech firms would not have access to any personal details such as addresses or dates of birth but the unique codes would prevent predators and bullies from hiding behind a cloak of anonymity online. The codes would also stop children accessing websites with age limits.
Children must be older than 13 to log on to social media websites in Ireland.
“The average age of owning a smartphone is now as low as just nine years old,” Mr Daly said. “We really need to think long and hard about how we are failing our children by handing over to them full and unfettered access to viewing or purchasing highly inappropriate products that could damage their mental well- being irreversibly.”
Mr Daly said society “will live to regret” it if age controls are not introduced for certain websites.
“We might as well just rescind all of our current laws that prevent minors from viewing adult content at home or in the cinema, from visiting adult-themed shops, or purchasing adult products such as alcohol and tobacco, as we give it all to children on a plate in the form of an unrestricted and unlimited access to the world-wide web,” he said.
Mr Daly recently discussed his proposal to introduce online verification codes with Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon.
“The commissioner did not raise data protection issues with my proposal at the meeting,” he said.
“She did indeed point out she felt it would be a challenge to encompass all internet users under the proposed law, owing to the global nature of the world-wide web.”