Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Age Verification Into Law Because Florida Is Supposedly ‘Free’

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from the great-timing-you-idiots dept

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who failed miserably in his run for president, signed a very controversial bill into law that requires age verification for porn websites and bans social media for minors under the age of 14. The act, House Bill (HB) 3, is one of the most restrictive laws of its kind to be implemented in the United States. The bill enters force on January 1, 2025, but it will be ripe for a legal showdown brought by social media companies and adult industry firms.
Like age verification laws implemented elsewhere in the country, HB 3 is broad and offers very little clarification on how to enforce the provisions of these laws. The Florida bill, in my view, attempts to do too much by simply relying on the “protect the children” narrative. According to HB 3, minors who want to use social media must get permission from their parents through an age check. Also, the bill tries to lump the age verification debate surrounding porn into a single issue. The legislation’s sponsors and Gov. DeSantis falsely present House Bill 3 as a data privacy measure protecting minors and adults alike. But, as we’ve seen time and again, mandatory age verification requirements – no matter how advanced or secure age verification technology can be – are actually a violation of a user’s right to privacy and anonymity on the internet as a whole.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida issued a warning discussing these very shortcomings in the law in the weeks before DeSantis signed HB 3. The warning itself fell on countless deaf ears at the Florida State House, as ACLU of Florida’s legislative director Kara Gross accurately said, “The age-verification requirements in HB 3 place barriers between users, whether they’re adults or minors, and their constitutional right to speak online. Age verification requirements blatantly chill the speech and threaten the privacy of adults by requiring them to surrender their anonymity to engage in constitutionally protected speech.” Gross isn’t wrong.
No matter how you handle age verification, you’re still verifying your age through the use of some sort of personal information. This ranges from government identification to artificial intelligence-assisted age estimation and (now, more than ever) biometrics. While the vendors of age verification software tout high-end security, they do so by significantly downplaying or overtly dismissing the most basic lesson in security studies: no system is impenetrable. And the assumption that requiring the broad use of age-gating software can suddenly serve as a silver bullet to protect minors from viewing age-restricted content on the internet is not only faulty reasoning but very dangerous.
Beyond that, I need to remind you all that all of the current legal and policy instruments being used to require age verification are unconstitutional.
Michael McGrady covers the legal and tech side of the online porn business, among other topics.