House Bill Would Heavily Regulate Online Adult Biz

WASHINGTON — A bill has been introduced in Congress that would impose prison sentences, fines and property seizures for online adult operators who make available any porn content, including content on splash pages, without an age-verification system.

The bill, HR 4059, also targets payment service providers, making them responsible to maintain internal policies to ensure that porn isn’t displayed to web surfers who enter sites without first verifying that the user is at least 18.

The sweeping piece of legislation, known as the Online Age Verification and Child Safety Act, also swings jurisdiction over to the Federal Trade Commission, which would enforce age verification for all sites offering material defined as sexually explicit under 18 U.S.C. § 2257.

Violators of the act would receive sentences of up to 10 years and undetermined fines and property seizures.

Sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., the bill also would establish a system to create certification for approved sites and a blacklist for adult operators who are not in compliance with mandatory age verification.

Diane Duke, the Free Speech Coalition's executive director, told XBIZ that Stupak and other misguided elected officials "seek to destroy our children’s future liberty in the guise of child safety."

"Clearly this law is unreasonable, overreaching and unconstitutional," Duke said. "FSC will continue to work with our friends in the nation’s capital to monitor and block this restrictive and ridiculous legislation."

Industry attorney Colin Hardacre told XBIZ that the bill is “frought with issues.”

“But first and foremost is the serious constitutional implications of attaching criminal liability for failure to verify age where there is still no reliable way to verify age on the Internet,” said Hardacre of the Los Angeles-based Kaufman Law Group.

As for protecting children, Joan Irvine, ASACP’s president, told XBIZ that age verification isn’t the “silver bullet.”

Irvine noted that the Internet Safety Technical Task Force’s “Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies” report even proved that.

“This Harvard-based research group report states that relying on mandatory age verification could actually leave our children less protected online,” she said. “It takes a community to protect children, and we must all do our part and in order to be effective the emphasis must be on education as well as providing parents the tools they need to keep kids safe.”

The legislation, introduced earlier this month, already has been referred to the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Energy and Commerce for review.