ACLU Supports Challenge to Arkansas Law that Places Unconstitutional Age-Verification and Parental Consent Requirements on Social Media Users

Arkansas’s so-called “Social Media Safety Act” stifles freedom of expression online by requiring users to verify their ages and, if under 18, obtaining explicit parental consent before using social media.

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
July 14, 2023 4:38 pm

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation today filed a proposed amicus brief in support of a challenge to Arkansas’ Act 689, also known as the Social Media Safety Act. The law, which is set to go into effect in September, stifles freedom of expression online by requiring all users, including adults, to verify their ages before using existing social media accounts or opening new ones. It also requires any users who are minors to obtain explicit parental consent for social media usage.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the Social Media Safety Act into law in April 2023. If allowed to go into effect, the law will require the users to provide personal information, such as a driver’s license or photo ID, to companies or applications that purport to be able to verify their ages.

This legislation threatens the free speech rights of all Arkansans, forcing us to hand over our private data or lose the ability to participate in robust online conversation. Individuals of all ages rely on social media for political speech, artistic expression, advocacy, access to the news, and more. Imposing unconstitutional age-verification requirements burdens users who may want to engage in anonymous speech, who do not have government ID, and who are otherwise concerned about their privacy and security. The law’s parental consent requirement would also impermissibly burden the First Amendment rights of young people, who are often at the forefront of movements, trends, and technologies.

“Arkansas is essentially trying to card people before they can use the internet. Even where protection of children is the aim, the government can’t use such wide-ranging means,” said Vera Eidelman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “This isn’t the first time that concerns about new media have led legislators to pass unconstitutional laws. We’ve gone through this time and again, with everything from books to music to video games to websites, and courts have repeatedly struck down laws imposing age verification and parental consent requirements.”

Lawmakers claim this legislation is aimed at giving parents more control over their kids’ social media usage and protecting teens from the harm social media may impose on young adults’ mental health. However, as written, this law not only fails to protect children, it also unfairly burdens users who care about anonymity, privacy, and security online, and may put users’ personal data at risk.

“This misguided attempt to ‘protect’ Arkansans ironically threatens to strip away our civil rights,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of ACLU of Arkansas. “This law is an affront to our freedom of expression and right to privacy, and a stark reflection of an alarming trend where our fundamental rights as Arkansans are being eroded under the guise of security. Arkansans deserve better than legislation that prioritizes control and surveillance over constitutionally guaranteed liberties.”

For decades the courts have struck down similar laws and attempts at age verification passed in the name of protecting kids online. Where less restrictive alternatives exist, the government cannot impose age verification on adults in the name of protecting kids. The same is true of requiring parental consent for kids’ social media use, since parents may have authority over their own kids, but the government cannot impose its view of what parents ought to want on all families. The ACLU is actively fighting similar attempts to burden free speech and free expression online at both the state and federal levels.

A copy of the proposed amicus brief can be found here.


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