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Response to an article by AVN on the use of Virtual Private Networks

February 15, 2024

The Free Speech Coalition expressed concern in this tweet by Mike Stabile, that an article in Politico implied we oppose the use of Virtual Private Networks and shared the view of un-named “Labour MPs” (actually just Sarah Champion MP) who wish to restrict VPN use in general. That is not the positions of the AVPA.

Politico quoted us as saying was: “the answer is obviously to either impose age assurance globally…”  The reporting extended that, but not as a direct quote:  To solve the issue of evasion with VPNs, “the answer is obviously to either impose age assurance globally” or for porn sites to begin detecting and blocking VPN traffic, says Corby.

What we had actually explained to the reporter was merely a matter of law and the nuance was lost in this summarization.

None of the laws we have considered in US states or globally include any exception if a child in that jurisdiction used a VPN or any other locating-spoofing device to pretend they are not located in a state requiring age verification.

So, faced with this, to avoid the risk of regulatory enforcement or lawsuits where a private right of action has been created, adult sites have limited choices:

  1. They apply age checks to all traffic, whether it comes direct, via a VPN or through any other technical means.
  2. They apply age checks to all traffic except that which they can be confident comes from a state where age checks are NOT required.  (This would be similar to the technology used to confirm a gambler is in a state where online betting is legal before accepting a bet.)
  3. They apply age checks to traffic appearing to be from a state where these are required, and to all traffic from known VPNs, as the latter might be from a user located in such a state.
  4. They apply age checks to traffic appearing to be from a state where these are required, and block VPN traffic because they cannot know where users are located.

We are not advocating for any of the above – merely setting out the legal requirement placed on adult sites by these new laws and the options that logically defines.  There is no get-out-of-jail free card if a child uses a VPN, and sites which ignore the risk that their users might still be in a state requiring age verification may be subject to enforcement or lawsuits.

As we said in our reply on Twitter/x to Mike Stabile, VPNs have benefits for both anonymity and security, and we do not oppose their use in any way.  It would be a mistake to advise adult sites to promote the use of VPNs to circumvent age verification requirements, as they would be putting those sites at risk of legal consequences, and giving them a false sense of security.  It is concerning that sites are promoting VPNs on pages which block user access in states where AV is already required – even leading sites who presumably have their own attorneys on hand to highlight this risk.  There could be some degree of mitigation from a sympathetic judge if a parent made a claim against a site when their child used a VPN, but it would be pretty unwise to rely upon that.

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