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Texas sues over inadequate age verification, as national march to legislation continues

Texas sues over inadequate age verification, as national march to legislation continues
 

Age verification laws are being enacted across North America in what looks like a chain reaction. But the cascade of legislation comes after a long buildup of concern and research about online harms, and, in an increasingly surveilled world, seems unlikely to be moved by persistent concerns about public privacy.

Lone Star State takes Big Porn to court, seeks injunction

In the U.S., age verification wars have entered the litigious phase. According to a press release, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a lawsuit against Aylo Global Entertainment, the Canadian company that owns Pornhub and other major pornography distribution platforms, for violating a Texas age verification law requiring reasonable verification measures to protect minors from exposure to obscene materials. Paxton is seeking an injunction against the company to require appropriate age verification safeguards.

Aylo Global stands to face millions of dollars in potential civil penalties for failing to abide by the law – fines of up to US$10,000 per day, an additional US$10,000 per day if the corporation illegally retains identifying information, and US$250,000 if a child is exposed to pornographic content because of inadequate age verification safeguarding measures.

Paxton fought for the right to enforce the Texas law, winning a victory at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2023.

“Texas has a right to protect its children from the detrimental effects of pornographic content,” says the Attorney General. “I look forward to holding any company accountable that violates our age verification laws intended to prevent minors from being exposed to harmful, obscene material on the internet.”

States push age verification forward; civil liberties groups push back

Meanwhile in Nebraska, where a new age verification law has been tabled, the senator leading the charge says the bill would hold both porn websites and verification service providers accountable for any data breaches or mishandling of personal identity information.

“There’s civil liability on the porn sites and then also on the third party verifier if something bad would happen with the IDs,” says Sen. Dave Murman in a report from KSNB Local 4. Murman claims Pornhub’s withdrawal from several states after the introduction of age verification laws is proof that the site relies on underage traffic.

Oklahoma legislators have shown enthusiasm for the state’s own age verification law. A report in OCPA says Senate Bill 1959 “sailed through a state Senate committee with bipartisan support.” The law requires porn sites to provide “reasonable age verification methods” for access to content, and promises to give Internet and cellular service subscribers – i.e. parents – the option to set their account to deny service if their kids try to access restricted material.

According to state Sen. Jerry Alvord, “this approach basically allows parents to opt-out of allowing minors to access pornographic websites through their home network or cellular devices into opt-in to adult access through age verification.”

Finally, the Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pushing back against that state’s proposed age verification legislation. In a statement on its website, the group calls on citizens to take action against Senate Bill 17, which would require users to provide personally identifying information, such as a driver’s license or photo ID, to third-party companies for age verification to access porn sites.

“In the history of the internet,” reads the statement, “we’ve never been required to present an official ID to merely visit a website. SB 17 compromises online privacy, undermines the First Amendment’s fundamental right to free expression, and represents government overreach into Hoosiers’ private lives.”

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