A group of book sellers and publishers filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on Wednesday challenging a new Louisiana criminal law that requires websites to implement age-verification systems to protect material that may be harmful to any minor. HB 153 [text, PDF], passed in June of this year, states, “Any person or entity in Louisiana that publishes material harmful to minors on the Internet shall, prior to permitting access to the material, require any person attempting to access the material to electronically acknowledge and attest that the person seeking to access the material is eighteen years of age or older.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] and its Louisiana affiliate [advocacy website] are representing booksellers and publishers that claim their constitutional rights are being infringed upon by this new law. Specifically, the complaint says that the new law “violates the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to, and the Commerce Clause of, the United States Constitution” for many various reasons “and unconstitutionally burdens Plaintiffs’ exercise of their rights thereunder.” The booksellers claim that the law forces them to choose between restricting access to all content at the front of the website or attempting to go through millions of pages to check for material that may be deemed harmful in order to restrict only those materials, hindering business either way as well as violating First Amendment rights.
In 2012 the US District Court for the District of Utah [official website] overturned major parts of a Utah law that regulated electronic materials potentially harmful to minors [JURIST report]. In 2008 the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] affirmed [JURIST report] a district court’s decision [JURIST report] to strike down the federal Child Online Protection Act (COPA) [text], which held website operators who made sexually obscene materials available to children civilly and criminally liable. That court found that COPA did not pass strict scrutiny because it was not narrowly tailored to the legitimate interest in protecting children, as there were less restrictive means available. In 2004 the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that COPA probably was a violation of the First Amendment, but remanded it to a federal district court to make factual findings on what technology was available to parents to filter the content to which their children have access, which is no longer as much of an issue today.