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Texas’ law for asking ID to consume porn is unconstitutional, rules US Federal court

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction blocking a Texas law that sought to impose age verification and health warnings on pornographic websites.

Judge David Ezra, who Ronald Reagan appointed, declared the law unconstitutional and inadequately defined.

Pulling up Texas for a vaguely defined law
The ruling favored the Free Speech Coalition, an adult industry trade association, and it prohibits Texas from enforcing HB 1181, one of several state-level bills requiring age verification for accessing adult content online.

Judge Ezra’s decision highlighted several problems with HB 1181 that could curtail the First Amendment rights of internet users and adult content creators. He stated that the law was constitutionally problematic as it discouraged adults from accessing legally explicit material, going beyond the goal of protecting minors.

The ruling parallels past decisions blocking similar laws, such as the Child Online Protection Act from the 1990s, and referenced the Supreme Court’s ruling in Reno v. ACLU, invalidating most of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law regulating online pornography.

Online age verification remains sketchy at best.
The injunction echoed common criticisms of online age verification, including concerns about the chilling effects of requiring individuals to identify themselves through potentially insecure verification systems.

Notably, the ruling pointed out the sensitive nature of requiring identification for accessing content on websites, particularly in a state like Texas, which still has a law criminalizing homosexuality. This raised concerns about individuals potentially being deterred from accessing material related to sexual orientation.

HB 1181 applied restrictions to websites considered to be one-third pornographic content, similar to rules in other states like Louisiana, which implemented an age-gating rule in early 2023.

Double-edged sword that could do more harm than good
Judge Ezra argued that the law was drafted to overlook significant places where minors might access explicit content, like specific adult-oriented communities on platforms like Reddit, and jeopardize age-appropriate resources for older children, such as websites providing sexual health information. The judge concluded that the risks did not justify the strict age verification requirements when other options like parent-implemented content filters were available.

Additionally, the ruling objected to Texas’ requirement for websites to post factually debatable disclaimers about the alleged dangers of pornography, deeming it unconstitutional compelled speech.

Texas is expected to appeal this decision, potentially taking the case to a federal appeals court, which could determine the fate of HB 1181. For now, this ruling represents a setback for the broader movement to impose stricter regulations on websites containing sexual content, and it provides a critical assessment of such efforts.

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