Germany is a nation with a complex regulatory structure surrounding youth protection. That means anyone selling products or services that are age-restricted must understand the requirements and legislation inside out. Read on for the most important identity and age verification laws in Germany.
Regulatory bodies in Germany
First, a bit of background on the German regulatory bodies and authorities that you need to know about. In Germany, there’s a wide network of supervisory bodies responsible for the protection of minors (online and beyond). Here’s an overview of some of the key players.
The media authorities (die medienanstalten)
In March 2011, the 14 State Media Authorities in Germany began operating under the umbrella brand “die medienanstalten”. Among many other things, this cooperative monitors compliance with advertising rules and provisions for youth protection in the telemedia sector, (in particular the Internet). Nearly every German state has a Media Authority. These authorities are further split into four central commissions. One of which is the KJM.
The German Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media (also known as the KJM or Kommission für Jugendmedienschutz or KJM), is the central authority responsible for the implementation of the JMStV regulation in broadcasting and telemedia. The KJM is made up of 12 members, including some directors of the State Media Authorities, supreme state authorities and supreme federal authorities. The current Chair is the Director of the Lower Saxony State Media Authority (NLM), Andreas Fischer. The KJM monitors media content to determine how well it aligns with accepted social values and norms. Above all, these regulatory measures are meant to protect at-risk children and adolescents.
The German Association for Voluntary Self-Regulation of Digital Media Service Providers (more commonly known as the FSM) was founded in 1997 by media, telecommunications associations and companies that operate online and later recognised in 2005 by the KJM as an organization for voluntary self-regulation. It is a non-profit registered association dedicated primarily to youth protection. Their core focus is to prevent young people from consuming content online that could negatively impact their development, or endanger them in any way.
Because the FSM is a self-regulatory body, one of the German State Media Authorities must formally confirm its decisions. The State Media Authorities, therefore, trusted the KJM with this confirmatory decision.
Age verification laws in Germany
In Germany, there is a wide network of laws relating to the protection of minors in the media. At the top of all of those, is the State Treaty on Youth Media Protection, or the JMStV.
The Youth Protection Act (JMStV) & the age verification requirement
The JMStV came into force on April 1, 2003, with the primary aim of protecting children and young people from activities that could impair or endanger their development. German law states that providers of extreme content, such as pornography or violence have several options to ensure compliance, one of which is age verification.
Section 4 (2) sentence 2 of the JMStV states that pornographic content is permitted if the provider of such ensures that it is only made accessible to adults. That guarantee can be provided using an age verification system, which law states, should consist of a reliable identification of the user & confirmation that they are of legal age. Under the JMStV, it is down to the State Media Authorities to impose sanctions on the respective provider, as enforced by the KJM.
The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD)
In November 2020, changes to the JMStV came into force by the KJM, which implemented the requirements of the amended AVMSD for youth media protection. Under the AVMSD, Video-Sharing-Services are required to introduce systems (such as age verification and parental access controls) to protect minors and establish reporting & resolution procedures for user complaints surrounding illegal content. Non-compliance with these changes is sanctioned by the relevant State Media Authority. Current enforcement measures include prohibiting access to sites in violation of the new laws, as well as financial penalties.
A further change, due to come into force in July 2021 is the new Interstate Treaty on Gambling (Glücksspielstaatsvertrag 2021 – or GlüStV 2021) which presents fundamental changes to German online gambling law: The most significant being lifting the online ban for online poker and online slot machines (and to some extent online casinos). In addition to preventing gambling addiction, the goals are to limit the range of games on offer and to guarantee the protection of young people and gamblers.
Requirements state that players must create an individual account with their true credentials for every provider and the provider has to verify the player information. While the law currently only states that the verification must be carried out by appropriate and reliable procedures, the State Media Authority may define specific verification measures in the license.
What this means for age-restricted industries in Germany
As the AVMSD starts to trickle into several existing German laws, now is the time for businesses that operate in these spaces (including video-sharing platforms, adult content providers, and gambling websites) to get ahead of the regulatory curve. Putting in place robust age verification measures will not only protect from the risk of large financial penalties but also sharp drop-offs in traffic. The KJM has been quite clear about its intention to pursue non-compliant businesses and prohibit access to their sites via ISPs and/or website hosts.
In an n-tv.de article, Tobias Schmid, Director of the State Media Authority (LMA) of North Rhine-WestphaliaMedia supervisor was quoted as follows: “Either the providers introduce proper age verification, or we will enforce their shutdown...We will ask the infrastructure providers, i.e. telecommunications companies, to block illegal content that is harmful to minors."
Enforcement action against EU based websites based outside of Germany
There is also ongoing enforcement action targeting EU-based websites outside of Germany. The KJM has historically focused on websites established in Germany but has recently begun taking action against a major site located elsewhere in the EU & accessed widely by German-based users. This site has not adopted the required rigorous age verification requirements for home-grown adult sites.
This strong stance on enforcement from the regulator changes the need for age verification, from a compliance matter to a business continuity concern. Businesses whose services or content fall under these categories will need to ensure they implement not only more stringent age verification systems but also work with AV providers that understand the importance of effective verification and compliant methodologies.
VerifyMyAge, for instance, is independently certified as meeting the requirements of PAS 1296:2018 – Code of Practice for Online Age Verification, developed by the British Standards Institute and the Digital Policy Alliance.