Reality Check: Age Verification Proposals Aren’t Going Away

WASHINGTONConservative lawmakers and elected leaders across the United States have introduced several measures to mandate age verification in some degree or another. Louisiana was the first state in the union to implement an age verification mandate on users looking to access adult websites, which entered into force on January 1, 2023.

In a matter of months, Utah became the second state to introduce an age verification measure that resulted in the ownership group of Pornhub parent company MindGeek deciding to completely geo-block IP addresses from the Beehive State across all of its sites. Mississippi and Virginia IP addresses are also blocked. All of which points to the seemingly certain conclusion that age verification isn’t going away.

For example, a lawmaker in Indiana last week announced his intention to introduce legislation that would require age verification in order to access adult entertainment websites. Sen. Mike Bohacek of Michiana Shores, according to The Times of Northwest Indiana, announced that he has prepared legislation for the 2024 General Assembly regular session requiring website operators to verify the legal age of individuals accessing websites that are characterized as age-restricted.

Bohacek, a right-wing advocate for book bans like much of the Indiana Senate Republicans, said that the so-called law that restricts “porn” in libraries “didn’t include anything with regard to the internet.” He voted with his caucus earlier this year to adopt House Enrolled Act 1447 requiring public and charter schools to establish policies and procedures for parents to request the removal of library materials deemed harmful to minors or obscene. During the legislative process, critics called the book censorship law “alarming” and said it will have “consequences for students' right to learn” in Indiana. Katie Blair, the advocacy and public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said that the Senate Republicans don’t have “the right to ban ... [a] book for everyone’s children.” Nevertheless, Bohacek wants to apply that very conviction to age verification laws.

Upon analysis of current state-level age verification proposals, it is clear that more states will see geo-blocks as Pornhub and its partners navigate a new non-uniformed regulatory environment in the United States—which is the world’s largest consumer market for online pornography. Pornhub Insights also indicates that the U.S. is the largest national jurisdictional source for its web traffic. 

AVN reached out to a spokesperson for MindGeek seeking comment on which state could be next for a geo-block, but had received no reply by publication time. Regardless, it's not hard to predict—in Texas, GOP state lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott last month signed off on House Bill (HB) 1181, which mandates age checks in order to access porn sites, while also requiring them to prominently plaster so-called “public health warnings” about the consumption of porn. However, these warnings are built on a pseudoscientific belief that has been debunked by mainstream public health and psychology for years. The bill enters force on September 1. 

No matter what the future holds for the porn viewers of Texas, there is extremely strong evidence that suggests adult entertainment firms are going to have to deal with age verification for years to come. Consider the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, for example. While the proposal aims to protect minors under the age of 18 years from the potential harms posed by social media sites, it creates a legislative precedent to implement nationwide age verification on all sorts of content published on the internet. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recommended earlier in the year that 13 years is not old enough to join a social media network. Based on this assessment, those who proposed the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act—a bipartisan slate of lawmakers led by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AR, and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-HI—want to implement policies and laws that enable a “government-chaperoned” social media age verification system, reports CPO Magazine.

While the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act is just one of the several congressional proposals seeking to implement far-reaching age verification measures for social media websites, it causes concern in terms of what it could lead to in the wider digital economy, including the online adult content sector. The U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) indicated that any proposal “that results in providers restricting access to content on their platforms may be subject to constitutional challenges in court under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.” 

The same CRS report also found that “state laws and public scrutiny about harms to minors may incentivize providers of online services to implement changes, regardless of congressional action.”

“The report focuses on age verification techniques, which most of these laws will require (even though some of them pretend not to: the liability for failure will drive many sites to adopt it anyway),” writes Mike Masnick of “But the CRS notes, it’s just not that easy.”