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Age verification legislation sparks First Amendment battles

Age verification legislation sparks First Amendment battles

Lawmakers at state and federal levels are proposing age verification legislation to protect minors. Texas is once again able to enforce a law requiring age verification for users to access pornography. Yet, on a national scale, critics argue the amended Protecting Kids on Social Media Act could infringe on the First Amendment rights of youth.

Texas to once again enforce law requiring age verification to access porn online

Once again, Texas can enforce its new law that requires proof of legal age to access porn online, according to San Antonio Express. On November 14th, a federal appeals panel on the Fifth Circuit removed a pause on the implementation of House Bill 1181.

The bill was signed into law in June of this year and requires outlets that publish or distribute pornographic content to use age verification to restrict access to adult users. But in August, the law was paused after a federal judge ruled in favor of a coalition of pornography sites and advocates including Pornhub, finding that the law likely violates the First Amendment.

In light of the November decision, Texas can resume enforcing the ban pending appeal.

“Texas has a right to protect its children from the detrimental effects of pornographic content,” says Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton, who calls the ruling a “major victory.”

“As new technology makes harmful content more accessible than ever, we must make every effort to defend those who are most vulnerable,” he says.

The bill does not specify age verification methods, but associated materials refer to “reasonable age verification methods.” Those are likely to include facial age estimation or face biometrics matches to government-issued ID documents.

Law HB 1181 would also require companies to display health warnings that porn is addictive and can lead to prostitution and child exploitation. Companies can be fined for failing to complete the age verification requirement, illegally retaining PII, or if a child is exposed to porn due to lack of compliance.

Amended Protecting Kids on Social Media Act still considered controversial

Senators have updated the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, but it remains flawed, argues the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The new version of the bill, seen by EFF, no longer explicitly mandates age verification for all users nor requires companies get parental consent before teens use social media. Still, the bill prohibits children under the age of 13 from using any ad-based social media.

The original act calls for a pilot program in which digital IDs would be issued and used for age verification.

Many platforms require users to be over the age of 13, but some designed for younger children do not. If this bill is made into law, ad-based platforms may have to switch to a fee-based model, restricting access to only those who can afford the fee.

EFF calls the act a “massive overreach” that infringes on minors’ First Amendment rights, as children have the constitutional right to access and participate in discussions online.

The amended bill also still requires that “[a] social media platform shall not permit an individual to create or maintain an account if it has actual knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances that the individual is a child [under 13].” This may still require some platforms to conduct some form of age verification.

States with ID verification legislation already in place include Mississippi, Texas, California, and Utah. ID verification provider Veriff outlines age verification laws by state here.

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