Abbott’s age verification order spells Internet doom

Anika Sultana | Mercury Staff

Texas’ recent attempt to restrict access to pornography intrinsically fails to actually protect minors and legal consumers of porn while exposing them to new data risks. 

The Texas legislature passed HB 1181 June 2023 with the intent of limiting the access Texas citizens have to “sexual material harmful to minors on an Internet website” by requiring age verification through users submitting state-recognized forms of identification, such as a driver’s license or state ID. Since this bill was signed into law, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued PornHub’s parent company, Aylo, by seeking a permanent injunction, which would prevent their operation until they implement identity verification. HB 1181 in accordance with the law. Paxton seeks to apply fines of up to $10,000 per day after Sep. 19, 2023, because the company has been operating without state-mandated verification. Paxton filed similar injunctions against Multi Media LLC and Hammy Media, which own the websites Chaturbate and Xhamster, respectively. PornHub’s unexpected protest pullout from Texas, preventing Texan IP addresses from accessing the site, has left some Texans desperate for alternatives in an attempt to exert pressure on Texas legislators to retract.  

With pornographic material invading online spaces such as Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram among other social media sites, minors left unattended by their parents can readily stumble across adult content. While this is the stated reason behind the age verification laws, the Texas law itself does little to fundamentally address this online issue since it merely offloads the burden of verification from the states onto private websites. Anyone, including minors, can overcome the verification requirement by installing a VPN or location spoofing app. People don’t have to be particularly dedicated to finding workarounds, since VPN providers such as Nord VPN and Surfshark VPN persistently market themselves through online influencers to audiences of all ages. HB 1181 is not up to par when it comes to fundamentally remediating the issue of porn available to minors.  

HB 1181 would require that every time a user accesses a website containing pornographic material, they must submit identification as proof of their age. This would require compliant websites to store and verify its users’ IDs, which shouldn’t strike confidence in anyone when it comes to data security, since porn sites are known for the prevalence of malware and other cybersecurity threats. Users of PornHub have an estimated 53% chance of encountering malware while browsing, and competing websites maintain even laxer security. Websites with lackluster security holding personal information such as names, birthdays and SSNs risks the theft of this data by online data brokers.  

While the people of Texas flock to Google to search for PornHub alternatives, the core of the problem ultimately remains legally unscathed, that being the verification laws themselves. Those attempting to access PornHub with a Texas IP address in the wake of the ban are met with a lengthy message from the site owners. PornHub argues that “not only does this impinge on the rights of adults to access protected speech, it fails strict scrutiny by employing the least effective and yet also most restrictive means of accomplishing Texas’ stated purpose of allegedly protecting minors.” In other words, the law is potentially unconstitutional due to government overreach and First Amendment violations. 

PornHub specifically recommends device-based age verification, which could be done when a device is purchased, which would function as a more secure and reliable form of verification submitting state IDs to porn sites. PornHub astutely says that states which have passed similar laws have failed to actually protect minors, instead driving users to less secure websites who are willing to ignore the laws.   

The combination of free speech concerns and malware risks brought forth by this legislation puts Comets in a difficult position when it comes to their consumption of adult content, instead relying on alternative online mediums. It is imperative to keep your data secure while Texas legislators decide whether or not they would like to meaningfully address the issues raised by HB 1181 or if they will just continue doing more shortsighted bans and lawsuits. VPNs exist as a viable and incredibly easy alternative for those above age who don’t have the time to petition their legislators, but still wish to watch pornography.  

Comets that disagree with the limitations imposed on them ought to beseech their political representatives with particular vigor, as this is an election year. Now is the time to exert pressure on politicians, both current and potential, through pushback, protests and petitions among other collective efforts.  If you want to protect minors while not infringing upon freedom of speech, then you should contact your legislator advocating for more sensible forms of restriction like device-based verification. 

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