The Utah lawmaker behind the state’s new age-verification requirement to access pornography online said there have been discussions with a private company about doing the checks at no cost to taxpayers.

“We would just be saying to people, ‘If you want to look at this adult content, then here’s a vendor who will verify your age for you.’ It’s not a mandatory thing,” state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, told the Deseret News.

The 2023 Legislature unanimously passed his bill mandating that pornography websites verify users in Utah are at least 18 years old. After it took effect this month, one of the world’s largest online pornography sites, Pornhub, blocked Utah users and sued the state,

“Nobody in the Utah government that I’ve talked to is terribly concerned that PornHub has decided to turn off the spigot for Utah,” Weiler said, adding he doesn’t expect offering age verification will impact the lawsuit.

According to the state senator, PornHub “saw their clicks go down by 80% In Louisiana” after complying with that state’s first in the nation age verification requirement and decided, “well, we’re not going to make that mistake again.”

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Hiring Envoc, a Louisiana-based company that created a “digital wallet” used for the age verification, could be a free trial run for what’s ahead for social media users next year in Utah, Weiler said.

He said he wants to try out an age verification system on the “small fraction” of Utahns affected by his bill, rather than waiting until almost everyone will have to prove they’re at least 18 years old or have parental permission to be on social media.

No further legislation is expected to be needed, the state senator said, even though the company would need access to the Utah driver’s license database. He said the new age verification system could be up and running within two months.

What digital age verification could look like

Calvin Fabre, Envoc’s president and founder, said Louisiana offers what he called a “citizen’s wallet” that includes hunting and fishing licenses, medical licenses, insurance cards and other items in addition to drivers licenses.

For Utah, Fabre said, the company’s app would only be used initially to determine whether someone is at least 18 years old or should be blocked because they are younger, without logging personal information or the website being accessed.

He said the 10 cents per “age challenge” that Envoc is currently paid by the compliance companies used by online adult content providers is an introductory rate and could change.

To set up the free app, Utahns would have to provide information including their names, address, date of birth and driver’s license or state ID number, as well as likely a photo for facial matching with what’s on file with the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles, Fabre said.

When an online pornography site detects customers are from Utah, he said the users would be told to open their app and enter a one-time code. Then, they’d be asked to permit access only to their “coarse age” — whether they are 18 and older — for verification.

Age verification for such sites should just be a start for Utahns, Fabre said.

“There’s so many other use cases. Here in Louisiana, we use it for ordering and delivering alcohol remotely, we use it for unemployment benefits, we use it for appearing in court over Zoom,” to verify identities, he said, adding the same is done for food stamp recipients.

Revenues from Louisiana’s digital wallet “comes from a combination of renewals, duplicates, commercial verifications from businesses and special request projects such as the COVID-19 vaccination ‘Smart card’ we added during COVID,” he said.

Fabre said 1.7 million Louisiana residents have “digital wallets,” about 65% of those eligible. He said there is no charge unless they renew their wallet, which expires at the same time as a driver’s license, or order a duplicate.

The ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to pornography legislation

Weiler brought up that the state is talking with the company behind Louisiana’s age verification system in a wide-ranging New York magazine interview about pornography posted Monday that included his views on sex education and gun control.

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He said as an elected official he tries to accommodate all media requests, noting he recently talked with a reporter for a publication in Israel. And, Weiler said, he wants to get the word out about what Utah is doing.

“This crusade to protect children from pornography, it’s bigger than Utah and I think Utah has been leading out on this issue, as has Louisiana now. I’m hoping that legislators in other states are paying attention to what we’re doing,” he said.

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But Weiler said he feels some interviews, including New York magazine’s, “want to put me in a box. They want to say, ‘Oh, here’s a Mormon from Utah trying to impose their religion on everybody and they’re using the force of government.”

He called that a “knee-jerk reaction,” noting that legislation he sponsored in 2016 labeling pornography as a public health crisis drew that type of criticism but 16 other states passed similar declarations in the following three years.

Because legislating pornography is relatively new, “everybody wants to go to the religion card first. I’m just trying to dispel that notion, saying, ‘Yes my religion is against pornography, but that’s not what we’re talking about here,’” he said.

“We already have laws saying that this filthy content is not acceptable for children. Every state has that law on the books, but nobody is enforcing it. So when I try to put some teeth to that issue, I always get this pushback that it’s just religion. I think it’s bigger than that.”

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