Judge Halts Mississippi Law Requiring Internet Age Verification

The range of content the state had the power to moderate under the law is too broad and subjective, NetChoice argued in its lawsuit.

A federal judge has granted NetChoice’s request for a preliminary injunction that suspends Mississippi state law that required internet users to be age-verified.

House Bill 1126—intended to protect minors from harmful online content—was signed into law in April and was set to go into effect on July 1.

NetChoice—an organization that advocates for free online expression with limited government regulation—sued the state over the bill, arguing that it constitutes government overreach. It should be parents, not the government, overseeing their children’s online activities, the group argues.

The bill’s main sponsor, Republican state Rep. Jill Ford, told local media after the bill passed in both the House and Senate in April that it was written to protect minors by prohibiting social media providers from permitting users to set up accounts without age verification or parental consent while reducing the amount of harmful content targeted at children.

The law also required that social media companies refrain from retrieving data from minors and using artificial intelligence to create images of children.

The bill was named for Mississippi native Walker Montgomery, a 16-year-old who committed suicide after falling prey to a sextortion scheme on social media.

Ms. Ford directed The Epoch Times’ request for comment on the judge’s order to state Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office.

“We appreciate the court’s thoughtful and speedy review of this matter, but respectfully disagree that the Constitution blocks the State’s effort to protect children online,” Ms. Fitch said.

“We will continue to fight for this commonsense law because our children’s mental health, physical security, and innocence should not take a back seat to Big Tech profits.”

According to the lawsuit filed by Netchoice on June 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the legislation violates the First Amendment’s limiting of state authority to discriminate against speech platforms such as the press.

“Congress expressly preempted state laws requiring websites to monitor or block speech—or imposing liability for imperfect content moderation,” NetChoice argued.

It also violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment based on its alleged infringement on the right to privacy, the group contends.

The range of content the state would have the power to moderate under the law is too broad and subjective, the lawsuit said. It could lead to censoring “classic literature, such as Romeo and Juliet and The Bell Jar, to modern media like pop songs like Taylor Swift,” NetChoice said.

Though “well-intentioned,” the legislation trespasses into unconstitutional overreach, NetChoice said in a press release.

“Mississippi requires websites to block broad protected speech categories, forcing online businesses to censor speech broadly with vague, unclear compliance standards.”

U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden granted NetChoice’s request for a preliminary injunction.

“It is not lost on the Court the seriousness of the issue the legislature was attempting to address, nor does the Court doubt the good intentions behind the enactment of H.B. 1126,” Judge Ozerden said in an order.

However, because the law is content-based, it is subject to “strict scrutiny regardless of the government’s benign motives,” he said, citing Supreme Court precedent.

NetChoice has filed similar complaints in other states.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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