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Utah law requiring adult content websites verify user age takes effect

A backlit computer keyboard is seen in this illustration photo. In May of 2023 a Utah law was created requiring websites delivering pornography to verify the ages of their users. (OSV News photo/Kacper Pempel, Reuters)

(OSV News) — A Utah law requiring websites with pornographic content to obtain age verification for users went into effect May 3.

Pornhub, one of the world’s most-visited adult websites, responded by blocking access to users in Utah in what it said was a protest of the law.

In March, Utah lawmakers passed SB 287 Online Pornography Viewing Age Requirements, requiring websites with pornographic content to verify each user is a legal adult in an effort to prevent minors from accessing “pornography and other materials defined as being harmful to minors.” The bill was passed unanimously by the Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Spencer Cox earlier this year.

The law states that any website with adult content that “fails to perform reasonable age verification methods” could be held liable for “damages resulting from a minor’s accessing the material.”

Federal law currently prohibits children from accessing pornography, but it is rarely enforced.

Critics of the bill argue that the age verification requirement presents free speech and privacy concerns, while supporters say it protects children from pornographic content.

The measure’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, told that “I’m not gonna blame all of society’s ills on pornography, but I don’t think it’s helpful when a kid is forming their impressions of sex and gender to have all of this filth and lewd depictions on their mind.”

Meanwhile, a porn industry group filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

Utah also has recently passed other legislation that proponents say protects children online. The state’s Social Media Regulation Act would require social media companies to verify the age of users before they can sign up for or use accounts. It also implements a digital curfew for minors between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. local time.

Local media reports said users who try to access Pornhub or other adult websites owned by the company MindGeek on devices in Utah see a message that states the company has “made the difficult decision to completely disable access to our website in Utah.” Pornhub’s terms of service state that users must be 18 years or older to access the site.

“As you may know, your elected officials in Utah are requiring us to verify your age before allowing you access to our website. While safety and compliance are at the forefront of our mission, giving your ID card every time you want to visit an adult platform is not the most effective solution for protecting our users, and in fact, will put children and your privacy at risk,” the site’s message read, according to KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City.

Utah in 2016 passed a resolution calling pornography “a public health hazard, arguing it leads to “a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.”

OSV News has reached out to the Diocese of Salt Lake City, whose territory includes the state of Utah, for comment.

Earlier this year, Louisiana implemented a law requiring websites with pornographic content to verify user age.

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on Twitter @kgscanlon.

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