Sen. Mike Lee Reintroduces National Age Verification Proposal

WASHINGTONSen. Mike Lee, R-UT, has reintroduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would make it federal law for all adult entertainment websites to verify their users' ages. 

The Shielding Children’s Retinas from Egregious Exposure on the Net (SCREEN) Act would require all pornography and adult entertainment websites with users in the United States to deploy “reasonable” age verification methods from third-party providers.

These include the controversial New Orleans-based software company Envoc, which is the developer of the LA Wallet digital license for the state of Louisiana. Louisiana was also the first state in the union to adopt age verification laws.

Reportedly, Envoc supports the SCREEN Act. Other supporters include socially conservative anti-porn groups, such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, National Decency Coalition, Enough Is Enough, and Culture Reframed. All of these groups have campaigned to some degree for laws and regulations that drastically restrict First Amendment-protected legal pornography.

"It is time for our laws to catch up with technology. We must ensure that as the internet grows and changes, the safety of children is not left behind,” said Lee in a press statement. “The SCREEN Act addresses the urgent need to protect minors from exposure to online pornography and stop those who profit from stealing the innocence of America's youth.”

Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., introduced a companion bill in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. In the same press statement, Miller explained that she is working to defend parental rights.

“As a mother of seven and grandmother to 20, I am committed to defending parental rights,” said Miller, adding, “I am proud to join Sen. Mike Lee in introducing the SCREEN Act to the House, providing parents with more control over their children's online access and protecting our kids from exposure to pornography.” 

Lee and Miller are considered far-right Republicans.

SCREEN Act requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce elements of the bill that would require a porn site, like Pornhub, xHamster, and Xvideos, to verify ages. 

According to a fact sheet accompanied by the Lee and Miller bill, the commission is the enforcing agency of other similar acts.

FTC is required to conduct regular audits of the parent companies affected by the act to ensure compliance and to promulgate rules based on the statutes of the bill if it were to become law.

Sen. Lee’s office justifies the bill's constitutionality by referring to parental filtering and age-gating referred to in Supreme Court case law. This was taken out of context, given that the high court has regularly sided with caution regarding age verification measures. Usually, federal courts have ruled age verification measures as violations of the First Amendment, among other concerns.

The Government Accountability Office would also be required under the act to review the regulatory performance and provide recommendations to Congress. If adopted by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by Democratic President Joe Biden, it would enter into force a year after enactment. The SCREEN Act competes with the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA).

AVN reported that KOSA has 46 cosponsors led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., to require an expansive overhaul of trust and safety protocols for web platforms.

If adopted into law, KOSA would require Congress to coordinate with the executive branch, namely the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to review the benefits and shortcomings of nationwide age verification requirements for websites.

Lee introduced the Internet Obscenity Definition Act in late 2022, proposing redefining obscenity as unconstitutional. That bill wasn’t even debated in Congress last December. Lee also backed the controversial EARN IT Act.

The Australian government opted against requiring age verification without including insight from age verification software providers, adult entertainment industry firms, the general public, and others.

Parliament in the United Kingdom adopted nationwide age verification through its controversial internet safety overhaul found in the Online Safety Bill. French government officials have also adopted adult website age verification.