Florida passes law requiring age verification for porn sites, social media restrictions

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed sweeping social media restrictions into law also requiring age verification to access pornographic websites in his state.

If it survives expected lawsuits from the nation's largest tech companies, the measure would take effect at the beginning of 2025. In that case, minors under 16 would be barred from social media platforms, unless they're 14- or 15-year-olds who get a parent's permission.

"You can have a kid in the house safe, seemingly, and then you have predators that can get right in there into your own home," DeSantis said at a press conference in Jacksonville. "You could be doing everything right but they know how to get and manipulate these different platforms."

The state could join several others with age-verification requirement laws that have led Pornhub to block user access in at least six states.

Law backed by school officials, House Speaker

DeSantis was joined by local school officials and bill sponsors, as well as state Attorney General Ashley Moody and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., all of whom back the new policy.

Also there was Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, who negotiated with DeSantis on the legislation (HB 3) after the governor vetoed the original version, citing legal and parents' rights concerns.

The legislation passed both legislative chambers by a broad bipartisan basis, with only a fraction of Democrats dissenting, claiming it was government overreach that would be overturned in the courts. First Amendment advocacy organizations have also come out against the measure, saying largely the same.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the paperwork for Florida House Bill 3 at the Cornerstone Classical Academy in Jacksonville on Monday, March 25, 2024, along with local and state leaders. The bill bans Floridians younger than 16 from "addictive" social media platforms but with exceptions for those who are 14 or 15 and get parental permission.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the paperwork for Florida House Bill 3 at the Cornerstone Classical Academy in Jacksonville on Monday, March 25, 2024, along with local and state leaders. The bill bans Floridians younger than 16 from "addictive" social media platforms but with exceptions for those who are 14 or 15 and get parental permission.

DeSantis says policy aligns with First Amendment

DeSantis and Renner said they believe the measure will survive judicial scrutiny.

"What's unique in this bill is we didn't focus on content," Renner said. "You will not find a line in this bill that addresses good speech or bad speech because that would violate the First Amendment ... But what we have addressed is the addictive features that are at the heart of why children stay on these platforms for hours and hours on end."

The bills defines the affected social media platforms as ones with features such as push notifications and infinite scrolling, which loads content as the user scrolls down, eliminating the need to click to a next page. Those features have had an "devastating effect" on the mental health of children, Renner said.

Here's what happens next: Does the social media bill affect Instagram and TikTok?

Tech trade group files lawsuit against measure

Renner predicted an imminent legal challenge from NetChoice, a tech industry trade group that has filed lawsuits in other states against similar measures and has opposed Florida's.

In a statement shared shortly after the signing, the group called the restrictions unconstitutional.

“An unconstitutional law will protect exactly zero Floridians," said Carl Szabo, NetChoice's vice president and general counsel. "HB 3 is also bad policy because of the data collection on Floridians by online services it will in effect require. This will put their private data at risk of breach.

“HB 3 forces Floridians to hand over sensitive personal information to websites or lose their access to critical information channels," he continued. "This infringes on Floridians’ First Amendment rights to share and access speech online.”

Florida joins eight states with age-verification laws

Florida has joined seven other states in blocking millions of people from accessing Pornhub’s adult video site unless they can prove they are at least 18 years old.

Last June, Texas passed HB 1181 requiring companies that feature “sexual material harmful to minors” to verify their age with proof of government-issued identification or another system that uses public and private data.

Louisiana was the first to pass an age-verification requirement law but other states include Arkansas, Utah, Montana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Virginia.

"So far, six other states have copied this (Louisiana) bill but minor changes have been made to the text, which can have big implications for systems designed to achieve compliance," reads a post from the Age Verification Providers Association, the nonprofit global trade body representing 26 organizations who provide "age assurance solutions."

Advocates say laws restrict sites for adults, too

With more states passing similar legislation, attorneys and advocates for porn sites have argued that the laws also prohibit adult access. Pornhub has completely disabled website access in Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Virginia, Montana, North Carolina because of age-verification requirement laws. The company said it had no choice in order to reduce the risk of hefty fines and penalties.

Last year the Free Speech Coalition, a national advocacy organization for the First Amendment rights of adult businesses, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Utah over what it called an “anti-porn ban.”

“We are fighting not only for the rights of our members and the larger adult entertainment community, but for the right of all Americans to access constitutionally protected expression in the privacy of their own home," Executive Director Alison Boden said.

In February, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Pornhub’s parent company, Aylo, in an effort to force them to comply with HB 1181. The Republican threatened Aylo with millions of dollars in civil penalties

“Texas has a right to protect its children from the detrimental effects of pornographic content,” Paxton said when announcing the lawsuit. “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.”

Contributing: Jonathan Limehouse and Kayla Jimenez

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Pornhub could be banned in Florida after age verification law passes