Louisiana now requires a government ID to access Pornhub

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A Louisiana law requiring age verification for adult websites has kicked in, renewing long-standing concerns about online privacy. The policy, Louisiana HB 142, requires sites composed of “thirty-three and one-third percent” or more of pornographic content to verify that people accessing them are 18 or older. That includes services like Pornhub, which has started requiring a government-issued ID for access.

Pornhub didn’t confirm the new policy, but video posted to Twitter apparently demonstrates what users see in Louisiana. It asks users to verify their age with AllpassTrust, which works with the Louisiana digital ID service LA Wallet. Vice confirmed the report using a VPN service, adding that other adult sites like XVideos didn’t appear to require verification.

“It doesn’t identify who you are.”

Louisiana’s bill was passed last year, and it took effect at the start of 2023, marking an unusually severe step in a series of government crackdowns in the name of child safety. Legislators in several US states have declared pornography a public health crisis, and some have taken largely symbolic steps to restrict it — like Utah, which requires sites to give users a warning before entering. A California law passed in August raised concerns that non-pornographic sites might have to verify users’ ages to comply with it, though the rules haven’t yet taken effect. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) has introduced a bill that would require age verification for adult sites at a federal level.

In a December article by local news station WAFB, a spokesperson for LA Wallet maker Envoc asserted that companies like Pornhub wouldn’t retain any information on users. “It doesn’t identify your date of birth, it doesn’t identify who you are, where you live, what part of the state you’re in, or any information from your device or from your actual ID. It just returns that age to say that yes, this person is old enough to be allowed to go in,” said project manager Sarah Kelley. Using LA Wallet requires scanning a government-issued ID to create a “digital license” that is accepted as official identification.

But age verification has proven problematic in the past. Among other things, it requires trusting a third-party service with sensitive information about your web browsing, and it potentially entrenches major companies that can easily afford the service, giving them an edge over smaller independent sites. (Pornhub owner MindGeek once raised monopoly concerns with its own verification service, AgeID.) The UK floundered in a multiyear attempt to require verification on adult sites, although it recently revived its plans. In 2022, French data protection agency CNIL concluded that “there is currently no solution” for age verification that is sufficiently reliable, comprehensive, and privacy-friendly. CNIL also noted that users could often get around localized bans by using a VPN.

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