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Federal Judge Rules Against Texas Law Requiring Identification to Access Pornography Websites

A federal judge has invalidated a Texas law that required age verification and health warnings to access pornographic websites. The law, known as House Bill 1181, was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in June. However, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled that it violates free speech rights and is too broad and unclear.

The Texas Attorney General’s office, which is defending the law, has filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The law was challenged in court on August 4 by the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry, as well as an individual referred to as Jane Doe, who is an adult entertainer on various adult sites including Pornhub.

“Government can log and track that access”

Judge Ezra also raised privacy concerns about the law, which was scheduled to go into effect on Friday. He noted that using traceable government-issued identification for age verification allows the government to access and potentially retain the data, which raises privacy concerns.

Ezra wrote, “People will be particularly concerned about accessing controversial speech when the state government can log and track that access. 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 that Texas has a legitimate goal of protecting children from online sexual material but pointed out that other methods, such as blocking and filtering software, are both more effective and less restrictive in terms of protecting minors from adult content.

Judge: No evidence pornography is addictive

In addition, Judge Ezra found the law to be unconstitutional in its requirement for adult sites to post health warnings that they disagree with. These warnings include claims that pornography is addictive, impairs mental development, and increases the demand for prostitution, child exploitation, and child sexual abuse images. Ezra stated that these warnings present scientific findings as facts when, in reality, they are either heavily disputed or unsupported by evidence.

Similar age verification laws have been passed in other states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, and Louisiana. The Texas law imposed fines of up to $10,000 per violation, which could be increased to up to $250,000 per violation if the individual involved was a minor.

While the Utah law was upheld by a federal judge in a recent lawsuit, Arkansas’ law, which required parental consent for children to create new social media accounts, was struck down by a federal judge. A lawsuit challenging the Louisiana law is currently pending.

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