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Thursday, January 5, 2023

Louisiana now requires a government issued ID to watch porn

On websites showcasing adult-only content, verifying your age by typing your birthdate and clicking "Go" is deemed a simple process. But in Louisiana, that's no longer the case.

As of Jan. 1, 2023, people in Louisiana will need to present proof of their age, such as a government-issued ID, to visit and view pornographic websites like Pornhub, YouPorn and Redtube.

The controversial law, known as Act 440, requires adult websites to screen their visitors using "reasonable age verification." The new law applies to any websites whose content is at least 33.3% pornographic material that is "harmful to minors," according to the bill signed last June. The law doesn't specify how the 33.3% would be calculated.

"Any commercial entity that knowingly and intentionally publishes or distributes material harmful to minors on the internet from a website that contains a substantial portion of such material shall be held liable if the entity fails to perform reasonable age verification methods to verify the age of individuals attempting to access the material," the bill states.


Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards' office did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment on how those without a valid driver's license or other government-issued ID can access online porn in Louisiana.

Representatives at Pornhub, YouPorn and Redtube did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment on Louisiana's new law.As with any form of online verification in which you enter sensitive data such as your driver's license information, address, phone number or Social Security number, concerns grow as to whether your information is fully protected against security breaches and hacks.

And with Louisiana's new law, experts argue that the verification process could potentially come with serious privacy risks for users. Jason Kelley, the associate director of digital strategy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told NPR that it's reasonable for consumers to have concerns about their privacy when it comes to sharing private information with third parties — especially when there's no guarantee that the data won't be retained.

"There is the explicit intention in the law that verifiers and websites that are using age verification should not retain [your information]," Kelley said.

"But users don't have a lot of guarantees that it will happen and the data will be removed or deleted and [won't be] shared or used in other ways," he added.

Rep. Laurie Schlegel, the bill's sponsor, emphasized in a tweet last week before the law went into effect that age verification is "a must to protect children from the dangers of online pornography."

"Online pornography is extreme and graphic and only one click away from our children. This is not your daddy's Playboy," Schlegel tweeted, adding that the law is "a first step" in holding pornography companies accountable.

Louisiana is the first U.S. state to implement age verification to view adult content online. Other states, such as California, have passed similar laws restricting minors' access.

In Washington, D.C., Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced a bill last month that would similarly require age verification, but on a national level. Additionally, he introduced a bill to change the definition of what is considered "obscene" under the Communications Act of 1934.

Under the Louisiana legislation, most users are expected to use a smartphone app, called LA Wallet, to show they are over 18.

The app requires a driving licence or an official state identity card to establish a person's age.

Users of one of the largest pornographic websites, Pornhub, are now directed to an age verification process, according to a video posted on Twitter.

"Louisiana law now requires us to put in place a process for verifying the age of users who connect to our site from Louisiana," the on-screen text says.

The message also says that the site "guarantees" it does not collect data during this process. The law does not make it illegal to allow children to access pornographic websites, but enables people to sue sites that do not have age checks.

A federal law giving regulators the power to mandate age-verification country-wide was proposed last month by Republican US senator Mike Lee, from Utah. The Shielding Children's Retinas from Egregious Exposure on the Net Act would make US regulators require sites to age-check their users.

But some lawyers question whether the Louisiana legislation is compatible with US constitutional protections for freedom of speech. Campaigners note a previous law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Mike Stabile, of the Free Speech Coalition, which campaigns for adult industry rights, told the BBC: "We should all work to prevent access to adult content by minors, but the simple, free filters available on most devices would accomplish the same thing."

The legislation was a dangerous step towards censorship and should be seen in the context of an effort by conservative and faith-based groups to "remove sex and information about sex from the public square", said Mr Stabile.

Ms Schlegel says she is a "certified sex addiction therapist" including "addiction" to pornography.

The legislator told USA Today the bill was not designed to prevent adults from accessing pornography, but was just about protecting children.

Ms Schlegel said she was inspired to act by Eilish, who said in a 2021 interview she watched pornography from age 11, and felt it helped her to be "one of the guys".

Eilish said the experience led her to "not say no to things that were not good" when she began having sex.

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