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Judge strikes down law that would have made it more difficult for kids to access sexually explicit websites

 September 3, 2023

A federal judge, David Ezra has struck down a Texas statute mandating age checks and health alerts for viewing adult websites, preventing the state attorney general's office from implementing the measure, as Fox News reported.

Criticisms and Concerns Surrounding the Law

The law, known as House Bill 1181, which was supported by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, was found to be potentially violative of free speech protections.

Critics of the law claimed that the regulation is overly expansive and lacks clarity.

Texas authorities, represented by the state attorney general's office, responded swiftly and filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The opposition to the law had been spearheaded by the Free Speech Coalition, an adult entertainment trade group, and an individual known as Jane Doe, who is associated with various adult content platforms.

Concerns About Privacy and Effectiveness

Judge Ezra pinpointed privacy issues as one of the chief reasons for his ruling. According to the law, individuals would have been compelled to use identifiable government-issued IDs for verification.

This move would inadvertently allow the state government access to this personal data, which raised alarm bells about potential surveillance.

Ezra stated, "People will be particularly concerned about accessing controversial speech when the state government can log and track that access."

The judge added, "By verifying information through government identification, the law will allow the government to peer into the most intimate and personal aspects of people's lives."

Ezra acknowledged Texas's rightful intent to shield minors from explicit online content. However, he emphasized the availability of alternative measures like filters and blocking software that can serve the purpose without impinging on adult freedoms.

Debate on Mandated Health Warnings

Another contentious point in the case related to the law's requirement that adult platforms to display specific health warnings, stating the potential negative effects of pornography consumption.

Judge Ezra criticized this aspect of the law, saying, "The disclosures state scientific findings as a matter of fact when in reality, they range from heavily contested to unsupported by the evidence."

Texas set high fines for breaking the law to emphasize its importance. Breaching the law could result in fines of up to $10,000.

However, if the violation involved a minor, that amount could skyrocket to $250,000.

Similar Laws in the Neighboring States

This Texas regulation is not an isolated case; similar attempts to enforce age verification on adult content have surfaced in states like Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, and Louisiana. However, the outcomes vary.

For instance, Utah's law withstood legal challenges, while Arkansas's proposed rule was rejected in court.

On Thursday, A federal judge rejected Arkansas' law that children need parental approval to open new social media accounts. Meanwhile, a lawsuit against Louisiana's similar law is still under consideration.