Denying children access to adult content is well intentioned, but politicians and legislators often go about it the wrong way. The British, Australian and German authorities previously investigated implementing measures prevent access to porn sites without some sort of age or ID verification. It did not work.
Now Louisiana officials are passing legislation to do the same. Bill HB142 stipulates that websites containing pornographic material must check government-issued IDs to verify the age of their visitors.
Private Internet Access does not support this legislation and believes that collecting IDs for age verification is a recipe for disaster when it comes to privacy.
What is Louisiana Adult ID Verification (HB142)?
Louisiana residents are now required to show their government-issued IDs to access websites that contain more than a third of pornographic material. The reason for this is the HB142 law, which was passed last year and came into force just after the New Year. Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R-LA) proposed it, and Gov. John Bel Edwards approved it in June 2022.
The invoice holds websites liable for disseminating harmful material to children. However, harmful material appears to relate only to pornographic texts and media. The second paragraph, presumably written by Rep. Schlegel, says:
Due to advances in technology, the universal availability of the Internet, and limited age verification requirements, minors are exposed to pornography earlier. Pornography contributes to the hypersexualization of teens and preadolescent children and can lead to low self-esteem, body image disorders, an increase in problematic sexual activity at a younger age, and increased adolescent desire for risky sexual behavior. Pornography can also affect brain development and function, contribute to emotional and medical disorders, shape aberrant sexual arousal and cause difficulty in establishing or maintaining positive, intimate relationships, and promote problematic or harmful sexual behavior and addiction.
However, the law does not affect all websites. Platforms must verify the age of their visitors, preferably through government-issued ID, if they contain a “significant amount” of pornographic material. The problem is that “substantial proportion” is still not clearly defined. The law states:
“Significant Portion” means greater than thirty-three and one-third percent of all material on a Website that meets the definition of “Material Harmful to Minors” as defined in this Section.
websites with at least 33.3% adult material now require age verification. There is no clear indication of how the porn percentage is determined and no explanation as to why sites are fine with 33.2% or less. It also seems to suggest that government agencies should be able to access all of a website’s content to determine if it falls below the 33.3% threshold, which is a whole other can of technical worms.
The 33.33% doesn’t seem to be supported by much. It is a copy of the UK Digital Economy Act threshold. As a reminder, this law proposed introducing age verification for adult websites and preventing children from viewing pornographic material. It was later discontinued for privacy reasons and technological limits.
Meanwhile, popular adult sites like Pornhub have already implemented age verification. Louisiana officials have created a driver’s license compatible state ID verification app called LA Wallet. MP Schlegel advised tech companies to use it for age verification processes, sparking some debate whether a government app should have access to this data.
PIA does not support this law as it raises significant concerns about digital freedom and censorship. In addition, if effective, Bill HB142 could be the precursor to other means of limiting online access, not only for children but also for adults.
At the federal level, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) sponsored the Internet Obscenity Definition Act (IODA) and the Shielding Children’s Retinas from Egregious Exposure on the Net (SCREEN) Act in December 2022. The laws aim to define profanity at the national level, and require all adult websites to implement age verification and restrict access to minors.
IODA proposes defining obscene content based on the Communications Act 1934. As the law is almost a century old, it may not be the best basis for legislation in our digital world. With our current technology and practice, these can Laws inevitably mandate privacy-intrusive features which can be exploited or abused.
Collecting IDs is a disaster for your privacy
PornHub says it’s not collecting ID data for now. But data age verification generated by apps is very attractive to advertisers, corrupted data and government agencies. By default, Age verification systems collect a lot of data about you. Not only do they store your information such as name, date of birth and address based on government-issued documents, but they also capture each of your authentications.
That means these systems know when you’ve been watching porn, playing games online, or accessing similar adult-only content. Despite promising that they don’t track your activity outside of their realm, third-party providers can correlate that with your IP address and draw an accurate picture of your browsing history.
We must also consider the security implications. Age verification systems must be secure enough to protect user data and prevent data breaches. As Ashley Madison’s data breach demonstrated, privacy is security. Data breaches have tangible repercussions for individuals and businesses alike.
Online age verification is a complex matter, laden with lackluster and inefficient proposals and implementations. These systems are either invasive like face recognition and ID scanning or easily circumvented like self-declaration of date of birth. With no apparent middle ground, can these systems be implemented effectively to keep children safe online?
A 2022 study found that more than half of parents are willing to make exceptions and let children bypass age restrictions, provided they have control over how their children interact with online content. While the study didn’t look specifically at adult material, it shows that most parents feel more secure when they set their own rules and monitoring systems. Less than a quarter of parents were comfortable with age verification, be it with the children’s ID card or your own. Parents considered it overwhelmingly invasive.
Intrusive digital regulations are a slippery slope. As champions of online freedom and security, we are committed to protecting our users’ privacy. Federal and state laws are often ambiguous, so we give you the power to take matters into your own hands.
This credo drove us to our milestone of 50 servers in 50 states. Private internet access you can secure your data and protect your surfing habits with server locations in all 50 US states. we use 256-bit AES to encrypt your internet traffic, and ensure more security when surfing the Internet.
For our Louisiana users who want peace of mind to access all types of content online, you can connect to our servers in 49 other states. Not only do our servers offer digital privacy, but they also have no bandwidth restrictions, no data caps, and no VPN download speed limits, so you can stay protected for as long as you like. We also offer other features such as an advanced kill switch to take care of that Your information does not leak even if the connection to our VPN server is interrupted.
Take care of your online data
Collecting IDs for age verification goes against PIA’s mission of providing online safety and freedom, and the privacy risks to individuals cannot be underestimated.
Online safety for children is a discussion that everyone needs to have. The internet is full of digital threats and inappropriate content and we should work towards that Building a safer experience for children. But that’s a job that starts at home, and if laws are used for that purpose, their text should better define what counts as “harmful material,” not to mention better protect individuals’ online privacy.
Parents who are actively discussing online threats with their children seem to have the right idea. Teaching children how to be responsible digital citizens gives them a sense of autonomy as opposed to blind limitations. Insecure features that pose a privacy risk should not be the price we pay for online safety.
Parental controls, privacy settings, supervised social media accounts, VPN Usage and firewalls to block malicious and inappropriate domains are useful tools to protect your kids in the digital age. It’s not a law that will ultimately protect Louisiana’s children, and adult Louisiana residents shouldn’t have to face online threats because of the content they consume.