Utah users blocked by Pornhub ahead of age verification law

The pornographic content website Pornhub has blocked access to Utah residents one day prior to the implementation of a new state law mandating age verification. Each time a user accesses a pornographic website, the site must verify the user's age or risk being prosecuted.

Residents of Utah who visit the website are now greeted with a message contending that the law will "threaten" their privacy. Utah declares pornography a public health emergency in 2016.

SB287, the Utah law regarding age verification, was approved by state legislators in March and signed into law by governor Spencer Cox. As part of the law, pornographic companies must verify the age of users using a "digital verification card," which, according to officials, will prevent access to sexually explicit content by juveniles.

Beginning on Tuesday, Utah residents who attempted to access Pornhub were redirected to a video featuring former US presidential candidate and pornographic film actress Cherie DeVille. Deville states in the video that while safety and compliance are at the core of our mission, ID cards are not the most efficient way to protect  users and In actuality, [it] will endanger the offsprings and their privacy.

The video urges policymakers to identify users by their device rather than by their digital ID, arguing that the latter approach may lead users to websites with significantly fewer safety measures in place. Users from Utah who attempt to access other pornographic websites operated by Pornhub's parent company, Canadian-owned and Cyprus-based MindGeek, receive the same message.

In January, a comparable law requiring a digital ID went into effect in Louisiana, where Pornhub remains accessible. Local sources reported that Utah state senator Todd Weiler believes Pornhub will eventually comply with the law.

The implementation of Utah's law requiring age verification coincides with an increase in requests to validate the ages of all internet users. Mississippi and Virginia have also enacted similar laws regarding age verification.

Beginning March 1, 2024, Utah will require social media companies to verify the age of users and prohibit those who do not provide it. Users under the age of 18 will also be required to obtain parental or guardian consent.

Under a new internet safety law making its way through Parliament, pornographic websites in the United Kingdom will be required to restrict access to their content by minors.

Last week, US Senators also introduced a measure that would prohibit children under the age of 13 from using social media, requiring parental consent for those under the age of 17. The measures to restrict access in this manner have been criticized by advocates for internet rights and free speech. The Electronic Freedom Foundation declared in a March statement that age verification systems are surveillance systems. 

This plan would bring us closer to an internet where private information is collected and sold by default. According to civil liberties organizations, the laws may impede children's and adults' access to online information, which could constitute a violation of their free speech rights. In addition to Louisiana and Utah, approximately a dozen additional states have introduced legislation requiring age verification.