Decoding the Utah law mandating pornographic websites verify their users' age

Just yesterday, a new Utah law requiring pornographic websites to verify the ages of their users took effect.

After Louisiana, Utah is the second state to enact an age verification law to prevent underage individuals from accessing sexually explicit material online.

Republican state senator Todd Weiler, who sponsored the law, said the following:

It's part of our job as a society — and maybe a subset of my job as a lawmaker — to try to protect children[.]

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.

Under federal law, it is illegal to show pornographic content to underage individuals.  However, that law is seldom enforced.

So how will this new Utah law work?

Senate Bill 287 mandates that websites with "a substantial portion of material that may be harmful to minors" must verify the age of individuals attempting to access their portals.

The age is verified by comparing the information entered by a user with information from a government database.  For mobile phone users, this can also be done by a "digitized identification card."

The law also allows age to be verified by "any commercially reasonable method that relies on public or private transactional data to verify the age of the person attempting to access the material."

Companies that don't comply will be liable to be sued if a minor accesses their content.

In response to the legislation, "adult content" giant Pornhub blocked access to would-be users in Utah.

(Internet service providers and hosting entities are exempted from being sued.)

Another recently passed law also requires social media companies to verify all Utah users' ages, starting March 1, 2024, and block accounts of users who don't supply age verification.

In principle, restricting access to pornography for underage individuals is right.  Pornography can be violent, deviant, disturbing, and nightmare-inducing.  It could cause psychological disturbance among young children, and any post-traumatic stress induced could be permanent or take ages to resolve.

This is why films have certificates, and cinemas prevent underage individuals from viewing certain kinds of films with violent or sexual content.

This is why personal devices such as computers, mobile phones, and tablets, and streaming platforms and cable television, have parental locks.

The challenge lies within the implementation and how easily the restriction can be circumvented.

Firstly, it is impossible to restrict each and every pornographic site on Earth.

Secondly, an individual accessing a pornographic site is usually determined and will find ways to access the material.

Google Trends shows the search volume in Utah for "VPN" spiked in the aftermath of Pornhub's withdrawal and implementation of the age verification system.  The volume of searches was several times higher than those of some states, while being the highest in the United States.

A VPN is a software utility that provides a secure internet connection for users and allows them to encrypt their online traffic and disguise their presence, including location, letting them skirt internet restrictions limited to certain areas.

A VPN would allow someone within Utah to bypass any age verification confines by transmitting a false location outside of the state.

PC World, the famous four-decade-old computer magazine, has already carried an article on VPNs that can be used by Utah users.

What next?  Will the state of Utah attempt to ban VPNs?

That may not be possible because there is a whole surfeit of VPNs available in the market.  Many of them are free and developed in such a manner that they are difficult to detect.

Banning VPNs may not necessarily be wise in the current climate, when the government seems to be actively working to target political dissent.  Perhaps users have created anonymous social media accounts or blogs and use VPNs to guard their identity while posting material.  If VPNs are restricted, dissent will be silenced.

There are other concerns related to privacy violations for adults.

Perhaps the information about the number of times an adult site is visited and the kind of content that was consumed will be tracked. This means governments will have information about individuals accessing pornography, which can be used to shame an individual.

Governments may claim that there isn't a tracking mechanism, but can governments be trusted?

Perhaps it isn't even the government, but the private contractor who is responsible for implementing the age verification system that stores this information.

Government or private contractors could be careless with the security of information.  The database can become a target for hackers, who could use it for blackmail or simply to cause humiliation.

It must also be remembered that information stored will never, ever be deleted.  This means that the government or its affiliates will always have records of your online behavior.  Perhaps in the future, laws are passed so that governments or employers can access the information.  Perhaps the present or future government uses the information to silence critics.  One could foresee a scenario where an individual who is a dissident of the establishment or a challenger to groupthink is shamed for his web history.

So is there a better solution to this problem?

There is, and it begins at home, with good parenting that is a combination of love, kindness, and discipline.

Parents must develop a strong bond with their child such that the child feels at liberty to discuss any matter under the sun, including sex.

Parents can educate their children about sexual matters in a manner that is wholesome, perhaps even seeking help from psychologists or other medical professionals.

The education should be such that the child voluntarily refrains from accessing pornography, understanding its deleterious effect.

It is all about the values that parents instill in their children.  The same kind of values that compel children to reject drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol will also prevent them from accessing adult websites.

Restrictions usually have a counter-effect; they make the restricted material a coveted forbidden fruit.

Image: Free image, Pixabay license, no attribution required.

If you experience technical problems, please write to