I don't quite understand why in the San Francisco Airport, when people land, the sign says, "No pornography is allowed to be brought into the US", when you can leave the airport, drive 15 minutes to an adult video shop and put in coins and watch all you want, or go to a hotel 10 minutes away and also watch hundreds of pornography videos for $9.99 each.

Also, people can go home, and order pornography subscriptions either from a US company or from a foreign company using the internet.

What law does this sign refer to?

  • 2
    I’m voting to close this question because what the law means is perfectly clear, and whether it makes sense is off topic.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 6:27
  • 9
    @phoog I kind of disagree, because part of the question seems to be whether the sign correctly summarizes what the law (which law?) says. Sometimes they put up such signs that oversimplify the relevant law.
    – PMF
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 7:38
  • 1
    @PMF whether the sign correctly summarizes the law is a good question, but it's not the one that was asked. If the question is changed, I'll retract my vote.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 8:57
  • There are lots of things that are illegal to import, or you have to get a special license to import them, even though they already exist within the US. Why would it matter that you can go down the street to get porn?
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 21:07
  • @phoog Is my edit sufficient?
    – user35069
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 8:19

2 Answers 2


This refers to the prohibition found at 19 U.S. Code § 1305

(a) Prohibition of importation

All persons are prohibited from importing into the United States from any foreign country [...] any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, drawing, or other representation, figure, or image on or of paper or other material, or any cast, instrument, or other article which is obscene or immoral...

What constitutes "obscene or immoral" is subjective and determined on a case-by-case basis, for example by applying the Miller test, being:

the United States Supreme Court's test for determining whether speech or expression can be labeled obscene, in which case it is not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and can be prohibited.

The Miller test has three "prongs" which have to be satisfied for the material to be considered obscene:

1 Whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards", would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,

2 Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law,

3 Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

  • 2
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller_test is a good starting point. The classic quote is from Justice Potter Stewart: "I shall not today attempt further to define ["hard-core pornography"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 9:13
  • Its funny that the ban only applies to material imported "from a foreign country". Material produced on a US flagged ship in international waters could apparently be freely imported?
    – abelenky
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 14:10
  • @abelenky On board an US-flagged ship in international waters (or for many civil and even criminal maters in any waters, actually) US law applies. On the other hand, an US ship crew in a foreign port that acts as illegal brothel with minors, may face a case in front of an US court.
    – PMF
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 15:00
  1. You think this law makes no sense. But actually, you have two sets of laws, one about acquiring porn in the USA, one about importing, and each on its own is perfectly reasonable. It’s just the combination that is “interesting”. But you could as well complain about the other law.

  2. Assume if creating porn in the USA was extremely well regulated, that is all actors are well paid, well looked after health wise, free to quit at any time and so on, and that’s why buying porn is legal. And assume that in other countries this is different, actors are forced to work, not paid and do on. Now it makes perfect sense to make imports illegal.


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