Proposal to mandate age verification for accessing pornographic websites in California

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Republican Assemblymember Juan Alanis, a former Stanislaus County sheriff’s sergeant, and San Ramon Democrat Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a women’s rights advocate, may not share many similarities.

Last week, they confidently presented their case on the floor of the California Assembly, urging their fellow lawmakers to support a crucial legislation. If passed, this legislation would make California one of the few conservative states to enforce laws that mandate adult verification on pornography websites, ensuring that only adults have access to explicit content.

According to Alanis, a former crimes-against-children detective, the intention of this bill is not to harm the adult entertainment industry or target those who work in it. Instead, the primary focus of the bill is to safeguard children from being exposed to harmful and increasingly explicit sexual material that is easily accessible online.

According to Bauer-Kahan, a prominent advocate for women’s rights in the Legislature, recent research indicates that 40% of college-aged women have disclosed experiencing choking during sexual encounters. She went on to state that this behavior is often learned by their partners from watching pornography.

“We might perceive this as a matter of purity, but it extends far beyond that,” she emphasized. “It concerns the well-being of our children and ensuring that they acquire healthy habits.”

Their arguments struck a chord with everyone present. Alanis’s Assembly Bill 3080 received unanimous support from the 80 members of the Assembly, with none voting against it. However, it is worth noting that 15 members abstained from voting, which is a common practice among lawmakers to avoid taking a stance on controversial bills, as reported by CalMatters.

Under the proposed legislation, pornographic websites would be required to implement measures to confirm the age of their users. These measures could include using age-verification software or requesting users to provide a credit card or government-issued identification. Furthermore, any data collected during this process would be required to protect the user’s anonymity and would not be utilized to create a record of their online activities.

The bill is now heading to the Senate. In this Democrat-controlled chamber, it is expected that they will listen to testimonies from the same groups that testified last month before the Assembly’s judiciary and consumer protection and privacy committees. These groups include parents rights and church groups, free speech advocates, and porn producers.

Porn stars, conservative family groups orgs testify

Joseph Kohm, the director of public policy at the Colorado-based Family Policy Alliance, recently informed the Assembly Judiciary Committee about the alarming issue of children frequently accessing online porn sites that showcase sexual violence and verbal degradation.

According to Kohm, the committee was informed that individuals are being exposed to a perspective that portrays sex as physical abuse, leading to a concerning learning experience about sexuality.

Free speech advocates argued that enacting the bill in California would curtail the First Amendment rights of adult Californians to freely access online pornography. Supporters of the porn industry also highlighted that the implementation of such restrictions, similar to those in other states, would lead to a decrease in traffic to their websites.

Alison Bowden, the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a trade group representing the porn industry, informed the judiciary committee that in states where age verification is mandatory, less than 1% of users on porn sites actually go through the entire process.

According to our data, she mentioned that what people do is they hit the back button and search for a website that does not comply with the law.

Porn ID laws in other states

According to the legislative analysis of the California bill, several states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Kentucky, have implemented age-verification requirements for adult websites. These requirements were based on the “model legislation” provided by the Center for Renewing America, a conservative activist group. The organization, which upholds the values of “For God. For Country. For Community.,” describes these regulations on its website.

After the age-verification requirements were implemented into law, users from those states found that they were blocked from accessing the online porn site Pornhub, as mentioned in the bill’s legislative analysis.

In a recent move, Democratic Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs took a stand against a similar bill by vetoing it last month.

In a recent development, the U.S. Supreme Court has chosen not to address the challenge presented by the Free Speech Coalition against the Texas law. This law had previously been upheld by a federal appellate court.

The effectiveness of the new laws in preventing children from accessing pornography and their impact on web traffic to porn sites is not yet clear. Since some of these laws have been blocked from taking effect due to legal challenges, there is limited public data available.

In December, a law on age verification was passed by the European Union. Bauer-Kahan urged the Assembly to follow the example set by these European countries.

According to the speaker, Europe has successfully implemented a system to verify age for accessing legal pornography. This system involves sending a token to the website without disclosing any personally identifiable information. By having this verification process on their phones, adults can gain access to adult content.

Alanis recently addressed the Assembly and highlighted that his proposed bill shares similarities with existing measures aimed at preventing children from accessing adults-only products. According to him, his bill would incorporate pornographic websites into the existing California law that already prohibits the purchase of items such as tobacco, fireworks, spray paint, and firearms by minors.

In his statement, he expressed his belief in the need for a unique approach in California. He emphasized the efforts made by his team to create a practical bill by leveraging an existing statute that has been effectively used in the state to safeguard children from various forms of harm.

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