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Pornhub suspends Texas access over age verification: 'Ineffective, haphazard, & dangerous'

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Pornhub said the law infringes "on the rights of adults to access protected speech" while "employing the least effective and yet also most restrictive" policies.

Pornhub has suspended access to users in Texas after an appeals court upheld a law requiring users to verify their age.

Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 1181 in 2023, which requires users to verify their age by submitting pictures of their government-issued photo ID as well as providing facial scans other information.

The law was blocked last year after the adult entertainment company filed a lawsuit against it, arguing it violated First Amendment rights, and a U.S. District Court agreed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, however, last week blocked part of the law but upheld the age verification requirement, citing a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibits the sale of "obscene materials" to minors.

Pornhub has since responded by blocking access to its site in the state. Texas users are now met instead with a message from the company, which states that the law not only infringes "on the rights of adults to access protected speech, it fails strict scruntiny by employing the least effective and yet also most restrictive means of accomplishing Texas' stated purpose of allegedly protecting minors."

"Unfortunately, the Texas law for age verification is ineffective, haphazard, and dangerous," the statement notes. "Not only will it not actually protect children, but it will also inevitably reduce content creators’ ability to post and distribute legal adult content and directly impact their ability to share the artistic messages they want to convey with it."

Pornhub Texas page

Screenshot by Ryan Adamczeski

Pornhub Texas page

Screenshot by Ryan Adamczeski

Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote in a dissenting opinion that the appeals court's decision, while violating free speech rights, also violates Supreme Court precedent.

“The Supreme Court has unswervingly applied strict scrutiny to content-based regulations that limit adults’ access to protected speech," he wrote. "[HB 1181] must face strict scrutiny review because it limits adults’ access to protected speech using a content-based distinction — whether that speech is harmful to minors.”

Higginbotham also cited privacy concerns, adding that "simply claiming that the ‘age verification preserves online anonymity’ does not make it so." The law, he continued, “Ignores the ‘special First Amendment concerns’ of the chilling effects on speech when the state government can log and track adults’ access to sexual material.”

Other laws that require those visiting explicit websites to provide some form of ID for age verification have been passed in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, and Utah. Pornhub also cut access to its platform in Utah last May and in Montana and North Carolina at the beginning of this year.

Free Speech Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of the adult industry, denounced the court's decision in a statement that noted "how this designation has been weaponized to censor and ban LGBTQ+ literature, reproductive rights resources, sex education, art, and healthcare."

"Sexual expression, online and off, has been and continues to be the canary in the coal mine of free speech," they wrote. "Many of the First Amendment protections Americans hold dear are the result of hard battles fought by the adult industry and others over issues such as these. None of these battles has ever been simple or easy, though they have been important and just."

In its statement, Pornhub urged those affected to "contact your representatives and demand device-based verification solutions that make the internet safer while also respecting your privacy."

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Ryan Adamczeski

Ryan is a staff writer at the Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel 'Someone Else's Stars', and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.
Ryan is a staff writer at the Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel 'Someone Else's Stars', and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.