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Age verification on the internet - UK scheme launched

CitizenCard has launched an on-line scheme in the UK designed to prevent fraud and protect children. Applicants for the card will have their identity verified and held on a database so that when they enter an accredited site their personal details can be checked.28 Apr 2003

The system was designed by Experian, the consumer credit services company. It uses the information in the initial application form and details on public databases to verify the age and identity of applicants.

Known as "interactiveAgeCheck" (iAC), the scheme will allow accredited web sites to check the details of users before allowing them access to the site. If the user is not recognised then access will be denied.

All accredited sites will display an iAC logo and will be subject to random "mystery user" tests. Three failed tests will result in the naming and shaming of the site and the withdrawal of the accreditation.

Experian said that iAC would reassure young people using chat rooms and reduce the risk of "internet grooming," the practice of paedophiles using the internet to contact and lure their victims.

It also promises to boost e-commerce because any adult not owning a credit card will now be able to prove his or her age if paying by Switch or other methods. Experian estimates that 35% of consumers over 18 do not possess credit cards.

Experian added that the scheme would "provide confidence to internet sites selling a full range of age-restricted services including gambling, alcohol, solvents, knives, fireworks, videos, games, financial services and adult entertainment."

Hilary Benn, the Home Office Minister responsible for child safety on-line said in a statement issued by CitizenCard, "We support all positive steps to assist in providing online authentication, which provides protection for consumers and peace of mind for parents."

While the scheme does offer a new layer of protection, the peace of mind for parents may be tempered by the risk of adults "stealing" children's iAC identities and the likelihood that children determined to access adult material will simply visit non-accredited sites.