Nearly a dozen states are moving towards requiring age verification for internet users

A growing number of states are passing or considering laws to require age verification before accessing some websites - ConsumerAffairs

Trying to find the safest verification method is the sticking point

One by one, states are putting the clamps down on underage internet users, forcing them to prove how they’re at least 18 to visit social media sites or pornographic websites.

Both of these crusades are part of a growing trend to correct things like excessive screen time and physical/cognitive development, but more importantly, boost online safety and privacy for minors. However, these initiatives also raise questions about privacy, data security, and the potential for overreach.

In the social media site corner, several states have either passed or are considering laws related to age verification on social media platforms. Arkansas, Utah, and Louisiana have laws already on the books.

All require social media companies to either verify the age of new users, with parental consent required for those under 18 or require the person to verify their ID, with one option being the use of government-issued digital IDs.

Where it starts to get interesting is that there are 10 states considering more of the same regarding being a certain age before you can get on Facebook, TikTok, etc.: Connecticut, California, Texas, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota, and Rhode Island. 

California's proposed bill is a one-size-fits-all type of thing. What the legislators there want is a law that requires anyone who is a social media user to verify their age and that if someone is under 18, their parent has to grant them consent. 

Then there’s the XXX factor

Some of the states that are considering an age requirement to be on social media are also building safety nets that go more broadly into porn sites. Indiana's new law, Senate Enrolled Act 17, requires porn sites to verify users' ages before granting access to adult content. This law is set to take effect on July 1, 2024. 

But porn sites are trying to keep that date from ever happening and have filed several lawsuits against the Hoosier State. The basic argument behind all of these lawsuits is that the law violates the U.S. Constitution and the federal Communication Decency Act.

Furthermore, they claim it violates adults' right to privacy and exposes personal information to online threats. Then, there’s the more technical “what ifs” being raised, like that these laws could lead to data breaches and identity theft.

The people behind those lawsuits don’t have much working in their favor, though. Texas recently won a Supreme Court ruling allowing it to enforce such a law.

Enforcement is the key hurdle

The legislators behind these efforts have their reasons, but one thing they may not have fully considered is how a state actually enforces these kinds of laws without coming off as too “big brother.” The situation is simply very complicated.

A report from the Open Technology Institute (OTI) says as much. Should states use AI and facial age estimation? Should the states require users to upload some sort of government-issued ID or credit card or let a user’s camera transmit a live photo?

The problem there is that the users will be sharing more personal information than they probably should have to. In the case of facial recognition, that biometric data could be exploited in all kinds of ways – discrimination, surveillance and tracking, fraud, etc. Researchers at OTI reviewed studies in Australia and France and found that age verification methods are ineffective while balancing privacy and security concerns.

The best answer for verifying the age of a person online may be “device-based” age verification. Let’s say that someone wants to visit an adult movie website. With device-based age verification, that person would verify how old they are using their Apple ID, Google account, or Microsoft account directly through their device. No upload necessary, no sharing of personal information because those apps already have verified our age.

But, in a situation where a 15-year old wants to visit that same “adult” site on their own device – one that has not been age verified – they will automatically be blocked. As argued in the following video, proponents of this method claim that because age verification is done on that child’s device, they’re headed off at the source.

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