© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pornhub blocks access to Kansas over new law requiring users to verify their age

A hand holds a smartphone with age verification text on a pornographic website.
Zane Irwin
/
Kansas News Service
Adult sites will soon require users in Kansas to prove they are 18 or older to access content.

Under a new Kansas law that took effect Monday, adult websites must verify that visitors are over the age of 18. Critics are concerned about internet users' data privacy, and one of the world's most popular websites has blocked access entirely in the state.

A Kansas law aimed at keeping minors away from porn and other age-inappropriate content online takes effect Monday.

When someone in Kansas visits an adult site, they’ll see a pop-up window. To continue, the user must upload information proving they’re 18 or older. Some websites that don’t enforce this could face penalties worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Kansas has joined a national trend of states passing laws that supporters hope will protect children online. A rare bipartisan rallying cry, the issue of age verification for adult content raises hairy questions about how to balance safety, privacy and free expression online.

"It sounds good on the surface,” said Mulberry state Rep. Ken Collins, one of the only Kansas Republicans to vote against the law. “But I have concerns about exactly what the definition of ‘inappropriate material’ is … my idea of that and yours might be different.”

The law uses a definition of “harmful to minors” that includes acts of homosexuality. Collins said as a result, age verification potentially could be required to view a non-explicit news story about a same-sex couple.

“Someone could find that inappropriate, just the mention of a person who just happens to be gay,” he said.

The bill flew through the state Senate 40-0, though it faced more opposition in the House with a 92-31 vote in favor. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly allowed it to become law without her signature in April, calling it well-intentioned but vague.

Proponents say the law contains guardrails to limit its scope to pornographic material. A quarter or more of a website’s pages need to contain content that’s “harmful to minors” for the rules to apply.

Advocates like Brittany Jones at the Christian nonprofit Kansas Family Voice say it’s a commonsense step to shield kids from adult material that’s more available than ever.

“In 2024, the internet is a huge part of every family’s home and a huge part of every child’s life,” she said at a Senate committee hearing in February. “It is up to (the Legislature) to protect children from (harmful) content.”

More than 70% of teens reported having seen porn online in a U.S.-based 2022 survey. The majority had seen it by the age of 12. And while scholarly conclusions on the effects of teen porn use are more mixed than widespread stigma would suggest, fears abound about porn leading to addiction, dangerous behavior or worse.

“By allowing children to view pornography as the consumer, it pulls them into that illicit industry that profits off of the slavery of human beings sexually,” said Joseph Kohm of the conservative lobbying group Family Policy Alliance at the hearing.

Despite the outspoken consensus against teen porn use in state legislative hearings, some participants feared the law could bring collateral damage to individual rights.

Government affairs consultant Justin Hill told lawmakers data privacy shouldn’t be sacrificed – even for legitimate aims.

“It’s never fun being the person up here to appear to defend pornography,” he said. “But I don’t know how good (Kansans) feel about providing their ID to a country in Europe.”

Under the new law, adult content providers can use any “commercially reasonable method of age and identity verification.” These are often third-party platforms where a user uploads personal information, a government ID or even biometric data.

Pornhub, the sixth-most visited website in the world in April, said it will block access in Kansas over concerns about privacy and free speech. The site is already blacked out in several other states.

While the law forbids businesses from keeping users’ information after the age check, it’s unclear how the state could enforce that – especially if the company collecting the information is based outside of the United States.

“The question I have … is whether the safety of children is outweighed by (the) privacy rights of a person who is of legal age doing legal activities,” Johnson County Democratic Rep. Dan Osman said in committee.

On the House floor, Republican Rep. Chuck Smith from Pittsburg said the issue is simple.

“Kids need to be protected. Everybody in here knows what pornography is. Everybody,” he said.

Zane Irwin reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can email him at zaneirwin@kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Political discussions might make you want to leave the room. But whether you’re tuned in or not, powerful people are making decisions that shape your everyday life, from access to health care to the price of a cup of coffee. As political reporter for the Kansas News Service and KCUR, I’ll illuminate how elections, policies and other political developments affect normal people in the Sunflower State. You can reach me at zaneirwin@kcur.org
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.