Digital porn and privacy at center of debate over new Louisiana Law

This article has been updated with additional comments.

On Jan. 1, Louisiana started requiring commercial porn sites to have their viewers verify their age.

The bill, known as Act 440, was introduced by Republican state legislator Laurie Schlegel and requires that commercial sites verify users to be 18 or older. If these sites do not follow this verification, they could risk being sued.

The text of the legislation says porn is creating a "public health crisis."

"Pornography contributes to the hypersexualization of teens and prepubescent children and may lead to low self-esteem, body image disorders, and increases in problematic sexual activity at younger ages, and increased desire among adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior," the law states.

Sites that are made up of more than 33.3% of pornographic material are held to the age-verification standard.

Get the quick synopsis:Want to access online porn in Louisiana? Be ready to hand over your LA Wallet

How did the child porn access bill in Louisiana come about?

Schlegel is currently serving in her first term as State Representative for District 82. She said, "I wasn't actually planning on bringing a bill like this and definitely did not want to bring it right out of the gate."

But Schlegel is a counselor and has been providing specialized treatment to people who are struggling with pornography. One day Schlegel was reading an article about Billie Ellish and it disclosed her sexual intimacy problems in relation to her long history of watching porn.

"It was really kind of a destructive force in her life, and I just thought how courageous that is of a young woman like that, having this conversation with all these people on this issue," said Schlegel.

A new Louisiana law prevents residents from accessing pornographic websites such as PornHub or YouPorn without verifying their age with their LA Wallet.

How many people are looking at porn in Louisiana and how are they accessing it?

According to Pornhub, who published site statistics for 2022, Louisiana spent the second longest amount of time on the site at 11 minutes and 9 seconds, which is more than the average view length of 9 minutes and 41 seconds, and just 13 seconds shy of the top state, Alabama.

Schlegel says her goal was to protect the children of Louisiana and not restrict access to porn sites for adults.

"The main issue of what this bill is, is to protect children... it's not about limiting adults," she said.

For Pornhub, the bulk of their views, 26%, came from those aged 25-34. Ages 18-24 made up 23%, while those 35-44 made up 21%.

Currently, Pornhub and its subsidiaries are the only compliant sites, and because the law only applies to sites where one-third of the content is considered pornographic, sites like OnlyFans are exempt from the law.

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However, in today's digital age, 84% of users are watching porn on their phones. Since the verification flag is triggered by the user's ISP location, simply turning off the Wi-Fi on a mobile device removes the block.

Schlegel said she is aware of the workaround.

“A lot of people are like, 'Oh, well, there's just ways around it," she said. "You know, what I say to that is like, if you take that to its logical conclusion, then we should get rid of every law that has age-restricted behavior, whether it's alcohol because kids find a way around it."

Privacy concerns created by the law

Schlegel said, "what the law actually does, it just created a civil cause of action against commercial entities who publish and distribute material harmful to minors that do not verify the ages of their users first."

The bill states that verification can be accomplished by using government-issued IDs or private records. For example, Pornhub, the only compliant commercial site, uses LA Wallet, which is a digital driver's license.

But, once a viewer attempts to put in their LA Wallet, they are forced to a third-party site, Allpass Trust that processes their information. The use of a third party is raising concerns about privacy.

According to Calvin Fabre, owner of Envoc, the company that created LA Wallet, and runs the anonymous verification on the platform, all that Allpass, a third-party verification provider based in Cyprus, receives is the user's age.

Though looking at the app, it appears like more information is being sent with blue checkmarks next to information such as image, name, and driver's license number, Fabre says only age verification is shared.

"For remote verifications, every data element that you will share are listed in the approval message. So in the case of AllPassTrust only the attribute of 'course age' is shared and approved by the LA Wallet user," Fabre explains. "Again, the checkmarks only apply when another LA Wallet user scans the time in coded QR code being displayed on the VerifyYou page."

According to Allpass's privacy policy, it also records your login information, technical information (including IP address), cookie data, and approximate location from your IP address.

The privacy policy also states that user data will be stored "for different periods of time depending upon the purposes for which we collected it." However, they do note that it will not be held for longer than it takes to complete those purposes.

The policy also states that if the user deletes their universal login, "or if your account is closed, deleted and/or terminated for any reason, we may retain your information to the extent this should be necessary to comply with legal, auditing or account obligations."

Schlegel told USA Today that commercial porn sites cannot keep identifying information after users access their sites.

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