Porn ID Laws: Your State or Country May Soon Require Age Verification

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For the past three months, anyone who lives in Louisiana and opens up Pornhub has been met with a new prompt. The state’s laws, it says, require people who want to watch pornography to prove they are over 18. People seeking to access Pornhub are directed to a government-linked site where they can provide their ID. The move is the result of new laws designed to stop children from seeing explicit content. But it is just the beginning—the online age-verification industry is heating up.

Since January, three other states across the US—Mississippi, Virginia, and Utah—have copied Louisiana’s approach, passing their own versions of age-verification laws. Another 11 states, from Virginia to California, have proposed laws that will require users to confirm their age before they can view pornography, according to recent analysis. Some of these regulations are slated to take effect in the coming months.

It’s not just a US phenomenon either. Across the Western world, efforts are underway to introduce more age checks online. Since 2020, regulators in Germany and France have pushed porn sites to check people’s ages, and the UK and Australia are developing their own laws. These follow the introduction of more stringent safety rules that protect children online.

The internet isn’t a child-friendly place. However, introducing age verification across the web is technical and complex. (In 2019, the UK ditched a multiyear plan to introduce age checks after encountering myriad problems). The porn we watch is also highly sensitive—kinks are incredibly personal, and leaks of data online can be devastating. Privacy advocates, porn companies, and some regulators say the move to introduce age verification introduces significant problems.

“The concerns about young people accessing adult websites are real and widespread; less widespread is the understanding of limitations of various age-verification tools, and of the new dangers they might pose,” says Irina Raicu, director of the Internet Ethics Program at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center. “Many regulators and others seem to think of age verification as a solved problem; technologists and privacy activists, including activists focused on protecting children, are trying to explain that’s not the case.”

For years, the only thing stopping people from accessing porn online has been small checkboxes: Are you over 18? Yes or No? However, legislation proposed around the world would add more robust checks. Dozens of online age-verification companies have cropped up, with multiple ways to prove you’re old enough to access sites.

Your age can be confirmed by credit card details, scans of your face, or, as is often proposed, checks of government ID documents, such as passports or driver’s licenses. The checks can be carried out by third-party companies, without sensitive information being passed directly to porn sites. One briefing from the European Commission details nine different methods of age verification—some sophisticated, some very low tech.

“A lot of stuff is being passed,” says Mike Stabile, director of public affairs at the adult industry trade body the Free Speech Coalition. “In terms of the actual implementation and how it’s going to work—that’s much more mysterious.” The The porn industry isn’t against age-checking everyone who visits its websites, Stabile says, but some laws are vague and don’t say how age verification should be implemented or whether all companies would be required to introduce the technology.

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