In response to new age verification laws in the United States, many websites featuring adult content must adopt updated verification methods. This article delves into Utah’s age verification laws, the reactions to these regulations, and how affected companies can implement suitable age assurance measures.

Understanding Senate Bill 287

In May 2023, Senate Bill 287 was enacted, imposing new requirements on commercial entities, such as social media companies and adult content websites that publish adult material. The bill specifies:

1. Liability for Age Verification: Any commercial entity that knowingly distributes material harmful to minors must implement reasonable age assurance methods. Failure to do so makes them liable for damages resulting from a minor’s access to such material.

2. Data Retention: Entities or third parties verifying age must not retain identifying information after granting access to the material.

3. Legal Repercussions: Entities violating these requirements will face liability for damages, court costs, and attorney fees.

4. Data Retention Penalties: Entities retaining identifying information unlawfully are liable for damages and associated legal costs.

5. Exemptions: News or public interest broadcasts, reports, and events are exempt. Internet service providers and similar entities are not liable for merely providing access or connections to the material.

Age Verification Methods

ID-based Age Verification: This method requires users to submit their identity document and a photo for biometric comparison, ensuring secure and swift verification. Ondato’s system, for example, completes this process in under 60 seconds with zero fraud tolerance.

Age Estimation: These tools minimise the need for identity documents by using face biometric data to categorise users into age groups. Ondato’s system typically onboard most users without additional documents, requesting IDs only when necessary.

The Response to Senate Bill 287

Since Utah’s law passed, it has had mixed responses from various sources, facing scrutiny and motions to appeal. 

In May 2023, the Free Speech Coalition, an unnamed attorney, two online writers, and Deep Connection Technologies—an online sex education platform—sued Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.

“The act violates the First Amendment in several respects,” the plaintiffs argue, claiming it imposes a content-based restriction on protected speech, unconstitutionally labels and stigmatises websites as adult businesses, and requires an approval process for providing protected expression.

Additionally, the plaintiffs assert that the law violates the 14th Amendment and burdens interstate commerce by restricting the ability of online content providers to communicate with Utah residents.

However, a federal judge has dismissed these concerns in favour of the bill. As Senate Bill 287 still stands, companies affected by it must adopt reliable age verification methods. The law’s stringent requirements and penalties necessitate careful implementation to avoid legal repercussions and protect user privacy.

Utah’s Social Media Regulation: Senate Bill 152

In addition to age verification on adult sites, on October 15, 2023, Utah proposed rules under S.B. 152 to regulate social media companies. Signed earlier in the year, the bill requires social media platforms to:

  • Accurately verify the ages of social media users.
  • Obtain parental consent for minors.
  • Provide written confirmation of the age verification method and its results within 72 hours.
  • Suspendany social media account belonging to a minor until parental consent is obtained, using verification methods outlined in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Legal Challenges and Proposed Legislation

Utah is currently facing legal challenges over the constitutionality of its age verification and social media law, which require extensive personal data for verification. According to the Free Speech Coalition, the law violates privacy and First Amendment rights. In response, lawmakers introduced S.B. 194 and H.B. 464:

S.B. 194: This bill seeks to improve security but still outlines rules for required age verification methods, risking privacy and free speech rights.

H.B. 464: This bill allows minors or their parents to sue social media companies for negative mental health outcomes linked to excessive use. 

Last Thoughts

Utah’s age verification laws present significant challenges and opportunities for both companies managing adult content and social media platforms. Implementing robust age verification measures, balancing privacy, and legal compliance are crucial for navigating these new regulations.

Fortunately for the industry, age verification solutions have existed before the changes to the laws in the US. Ondato has provided our clients with age verification and estimation solutions for years, ensuring convenient processes with the best methods to verify age in the market.

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    FAQ

    Age assurance in Utah involves verifying a user's age through digital identification or a commercial age verification system using government-issued IDs or transactional data.
    Social media platforms in Utah verify age through digital identification performed by the website or a commercial age verification system, which relies on government-issued IDs or transactional data.