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

A federal judge has declared a Texas law that mandates age verification and health warnings to access pornographic websites as unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled that House Bill 1181, signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in June, infringes upon free speech rights and is overly broad and unclear. The state attorney general’s office, responsible for defending the law, has filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The law was challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry, along with an individual identified as Jane Doe, described as an adult entertainer on various adult websites such as Pornhub.

“Government can log and track that access”

Judge Ezra highlighted privacy concerns raised by the law, which was set to take effect last Friday. Age verification would require the use of traceable government-issued identification, enabling the government to collect and retain personal data without a requirement to delete it. “People will be particularly concerned about accessing controversial speech when the state government can log and track that access,” Ezra wrote. He acknowledged that Texas has a legitimate goal of protecting children from online sexual material but argued that other methods, such as blocking and filtering software, are more effective and less restrictive in terms of safeguarding minors from adult content.

Judge: No evidence pornography is addictive

Additionally, the judge concluded that the law unconstitutionally compels speech by obligating adult websites to display disputed health warnings, such as claims that pornography is addictive, impairs mental development, and fuels demand for prostitution, child exploitation, and child sexual abuse images. Ezra stated that these disclosures present scientific findings as factual when they are actually highly contested or lacking evidence.

The Texas law is one of several similar age verification laws enacted in other states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, and Louisiana. Violations of the Texas law could result in fines of up to $10,000 per offense or up to $250,000 if involving a minor. While a federal judge upheld the Utah law, rejecting a legal challenge last month, a federal judge struck down Arkansas’ law that required parental consent for children to create social media accounts. Litigation concerning the Louisiana law is still pending.

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