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Mississippi age verification law for websites blocked by federal judge

Robert Besser
6 Jul 2024

JACKSON, Mississippi: A Mississippi law that required users of websites and other digital services to verify their age was blocked by a federal judge this week.

On the day the law was to take effect, U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden issued a preliminary injunction. Arguing that the law would unconstitutionally limit access to online speech for minors and adults, a tech industry group sued Mississippi on June 7.

However, legislators claimed the law was meant to protect children from sexually explicit material.

"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 (the law)," The Associated Press quoted Ozderen in her ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that any law that deals with speech "is subject to strict scrutiny regardless of the government's benign motive."

After the legislation was unanimously passed by the GOP-controlled House and Senate, Republican Governor Tate Reeves signed the legislation.

The suit challenging the law was filed by NetChoice, whose members include Google, which owns YouTube; Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat; and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.

NetChoice has persuaded judges to block similar laws in other states, including Arkansas, California and Ohio.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch wrote that the law does not limit speech but instead regulates the "non-expressive conduct" of online platforms.

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