A U.S. District Judge has nullified a Texas statute mandating age confirmation and health advisories for viewing adult content websites, and has prohibited the state attorney general's office from implementing it.
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On Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Ezra concurred with arguments that House Bill 1181, endorsed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in June, infringes upon freedom of speech and is excessively broad and ambiguous.
The state attorney general's office, which is advocating for the law, promptly lodged an appeal notice to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The Free Speech Coalition, an industry group for the adult entertainment sector, and an individual known as Jane Doe, characterized as an adult performer on various adult platforms, including Pornhub, filed the lawsuit on Aug. 4.
Judge Ezra also stated that the law, scheduled to be enacted on Friday, poses privacy issues because a permissible age verification involves using a trackable government-issued ID, and the government has access to and is not obliged to erase the data.
“Individuals will be particularly apprehensive about accessing contentious speech when the state government can record and monitor that access,” Ezra penned. “By authenticating information through government identification, the law will permit the government to scrutinize the most private and personal aspects of people’s lives.”
Ezra acknowledged that Texas has a valid objective of safeguarding children from online adult content, but highlighted that other solutions, such as blocking and filtering software, are available.
“These techniques are more efficient and less limiting in terms of shielding minors from adult content,” Ezra penned.
The judge also determined that the law unconstitutionally coerces speech by obliging adult websites to display health warnings they dispute — that pornography is addictive, hampers mental development, and escalates the demand for prostitution, child exploitation, and child sexual abuse imagery.
“The disclosures present scientific conclusions as factual, when in truth, they range from heavily disputed to unsupported by the evidence,” Ezra penned.
The Texas law is among several comparable age verification laws enacted in other states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, and Louisiana.
The Texas law imposed penalties of up to $10,000 per infringement that could be escalated to up to $250,000 per infringement by a minor.
A federal judge upheld the Utah law last month, dismissing a lawsuit contesting it.
A federal judge nullified Arkansas' law, which would have necessitated parental approval for children to establish new social media accounts, on Thursday, and a lawsuit contesting the Louisiana law is ongoing.