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Ambiguous US age verification legislation sets up legal challenges

Ambiguous US age verification legislation sets up legal challenges
 

Putting walls around adult or should-be-adult content online is enticing to U.S. culture warriors, but it’s not easy to do.

Absent guaranteed civil liberties, privacy rights, data breaches and IT-savvy children, age verification would be an easy way to control information access.

That isn’t the case in the United States and still regional governments curry favor with a motivated anti-pornography sector of the electorate by writing thin age-check legislation.

The results are state laws that raise questions and, in the cases of Florida and Utah, create rework.

Indiana senators have easily passed legislation that would force anyone seeking access to adult sites to verify their ages using photo IDs. ID data would then be deleted, forcing users to reverify on each visit to the site. A method of determining that the ID belongs to the user is not specified, biometric or otherwise. The idea now goes to the lower house for a vote.

The largely rural, largely conservative state follows in the tracks of other similar states, including Louisiana. Legislation like Indiana’s has been challenged in court as an infringement of the First Amendment.

Florida lawmakers are at the same stage with a new bill that would ban children younger than 16 years from social media (the should-be-adult content). The upper house overwhelmingly passed regulations that would impose age verification.

But, asked for details about the bill, which is heading to the House of Representatives, one of the bill’s sponsors said he would not name social media sites to be targeted. Rep. Tyler Sirois (R) reportedly told reporters, “Our bill is focused on features.”

The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper has a breakdown of what is reportedly not targeted. The bill also would require social media companies to report harmful behaviors to police.

Ambiguous laws are breakfast for Constitutional lawyers.

Witness Utah, the most socially conservative state in the nation, which last year passed a law similarly banning children from accessing social media. The law, which was to go into effect early this year, has been called “grandstanding” even by conservatives, according to the libertarian political publication Reason.

Worse than grandstanding, many Republican strategists say it is unconstitutional and invites challenges in its present form. It is expected to be repealed during the current legislative session.

An age-verification webinar hosted by Biometric Update and Goode Intelligence will examine lessons learned from the UK on February 27.

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