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Battle over age verification heats up in increasingly censorious US

Battle over age verification heats up in increasingly censorious US

Depending on the point of view, online life in the United States is either marching toward safety for children or sliding into unprecedented government and corporate trackability.

States and even the U.S. Congress are pushing legislation that tries to gate online pornography and social media for access only by people who can prove they are 18 years old or older.

To accomplish one goal, protecting children, swaths of the internet would require people to prove their legal adulthood and that, at least right now, means making biometrics or ID document scans available to unseen actors.

The Congress, which seems unwilling to address the internet unless legislation has a variation of the word “children” in the name, is working on the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection and the Kids Online Safety acts in the Senate.

The bills, referred to as COPPA 2.0 and KOSA, have been passed out of committee and are expected to be heard on the Senate floor next month.

Trade publication Bloomberg Law has compiled a growing list of state legislatures that have passed online child protection laws. They include Virginia, Mississippi and Utah. Texas and Montana have passed laws and are waiting for them to be enacted.

Lawsuits are following some of the state’s gating laws, often filed by privacy advocates and NetChoice, an exclusive trade group that includes X, TikTok, Meta, Google and Amazon, according to legal trade publication Law360.

For example, NetChoice in December filed for a preliminary injunction to sideline California’s Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, which was passed last fall. The law goes beyond what its name implies to deal with access.

NetChoice has warned that it is the most comprehensive attack on the First Amendment in 25 years.

Last week, a federal judge told lawyers for NetChoice and the state attorney general she needed more information on the issue. The judge has said she feels like she is walking a fine line, that both sides have legitimate concerns.

Meanwhile, a legal challenge against Utah’s online age restrictions was dismissed this week.

Opposition to these laws beyond lawsuits and a few association boards has been muted by the marketing of legislation. Who are the voters (or even viewers of nude photos) who will raise a fist to stop laws with names like Kids Online Safety Act?

They exist, though. They see not just threats to free speech and expression but to the LGBTQ+ community whose very lives are pornographic to a vocal minority.

Adult content mecca Pornhub is taking an unusual path on the topic. It is working with Louisiana to implement age verification, but it cut access to its site in Arkansas, Virginia, Mississippi and Utah.

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