COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Adult websites would require users to verify their age by submitting a copy of a government-issued ID card before accessing sexually explicit material if a bill advancing through the Ohio Statehouse is signed into law.
House Bill 295, known as the “Innocence Act,” has been proposed to prohibit anyone under age 18 from viewing sexually explicit material and require pornographic websites to enforce age verification. Users in Ohio would authenticate their identity by uploading a photo of their ID card or another personal document, like proof of a mortgage or employment.
If enacted, sexually explicit websites would be charged with a third-degree felony for failing to verify the age of a person accessing the adult content. A minor attempting to access sexually explicit material by falsifying their identity would be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor.
The act would also prohibit the sale of “deepfakes,” the manipulation of facial appearances through artificial intelligence to create visual and audio content engaged in sexual acts. The dissemination of sexual deepfakes would be charged as a third-degree felony.
Rep. Steve Demetriou (R-Bainbridge Township) introduced the bill with the support of nearly two dozen Ohio House representatives. He said pornographic websites are a pathway to mental health issues for children and a precursor to sexual aggression.
“Online pornography is a threat to Ohio children,” Demetriou said. “The Innocence Act simply creates a common sense, age-appropriate barrier to ensure that Ohio children cannot access this harmful content with the tap of an app on a smartphone.”
Demetriou’s proposal is similar to laws that have passed in Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia and Texas. However, a federal judge reversed Texas’ law in September, saying that the measure “is constitutionally problematic because it deters adults’ access to legal sexually explicit material, far beyond the interest of protecting minors.”
If signed into law, HB 295 could cause PornHub, an adult website visited 42 billion times in 2019, to go dark in Ohio. The site has blocked access in Arkansas, Mississippi, Virginia and Utah rather than comply with the states’ age-verification laws.
HB 295 has yet to be assigned to an Ohio House committee, where it will receive hearings open for public testimony. View the entirety of the bill as introduced below.