Louisiana House Bill 258


Summary

Louisiana House Bill 258 would require anyone who publishes material harmful to minors on the Internet to require an “age verification system” to access the material. Failure to do so is a crime even if the material is not accessed by a minor. An “age verification system” is defined as technology used by a website to confirm that a user attempting to access the website is at least 18 years of age.

A violation is punishable by a fine of $10,000. It is unclear from the text of the bill if it is also the intent of the legislation to apply to the Internet Louisiana’s existing law barring dissemination to minors of material harmful to minors.

Status

The bill died in the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice.

Analysis

»  There is a substantial body of case law striking down laws that apply “harmful to minors” restrictions to material generally accessible on the Internet. These laws were ruled unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment rights of adults to access such content.

»  The Supreme Court has been dubious about “age verification” systems. The federal Child Online Protection Act included an affirmative defense for any website that used an age verification system. In considering whether to uphold a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of COPA, the Court held that these systems are neither the least restrictive means nor the more effective means for preventing minors from accessing harmful to minors material. The Court remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for further fact finding, where U.S. District Judge Lowell found that these systems are ineffective.

»  It creates practical problems for websitesAge verification systems charge websites for each visitor. This cost is prohibitive for individuals who have blogs or personal websites that are free to visit and can be substantial even for sites that generate income. Age verification systems also deprive Internet browsers of their anonymity. Many browsers will decide not to view the material rather than reveal their identity online. This deprives those readers access to sensitive material, such as health information. In turn, this reduces traffic on websites. The loss of traffic can reduce the income of websites and limit the ability to communicate with a wider audience.

History

  • On February 20, 2014, the bill was pre-filed [2] and referred to the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice.
  • Media Coalition submitted a memo in opposition [1] on March 31, 2014, explaining the constitutional issues with the bill.
  • The bill died in the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice.

Last updated: Sep 3, 2015