Mississippi is the latest state sued by tech group over age verification on websites

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Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch waves to the crowd at a Trump for President rally in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, June 6, 2024. Fitch was named a defendant in a lawsuit filed Friday, June 7, 2024, in federal court over a new Mississippi law requiring users of websites and other digital services to register their age. The suit by the tech industry group NetChoice contends the law will unconstitutionally limit access to online speech for minors and adults. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. – A new Mississippi law requiring users of websites and other digital services to verify their age will unconstitutionally limit access to online speech for minors and adults, a tech industry group says in a lawsuit filed Friday.

Legislators said the new law is designed to protect children from sexually explicit material. The measure passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate without opposition from either party. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed it April 30, and it is set to become law July 1.

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The lawsuit challenging the new Mississippi law was filed in federal court in Jackson by NetChoice, whose members include Google, which owns YouTube; Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat; and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.

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

The Mississippi law “mandates that minors and adults alike verify their ages — which may include handing over personal information or identification that many are unwilling or unable to provide — as a precondition to access and engage in protected speech,” the lawsuit says. “Such requirements abridge the freedom of speech and thus violate the First Amendment.”

The lawsuit also says the Mississippi law would replace websites' voluntary content-moderation efforts with state-mandated censorship.

“Furthermore, the broad, subjective, and vague categories of speech that the Act requires websites to monitor and censor could reach everything from classic literature, such as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘The Bell Jar,’ to modern media like pop songs by Taylor Swift,” the lawsuit says.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch is the defendant named in the lawsuit. The attorney general's office does not comment on active litigation but “looks forward to defending the State’s law that gives parents the help they need to protect their children online,” communications director MaryAsa Lee said.

Utah is among the states sued by NetChoice over laws that imposed strict limits for children seeking access to social media. In March, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed revisions to the Utah laws. The new laws require social media companies to verify their users' ages and disable certain features on accounts owned by Utah youths. Utah legislators also removed a requirement that parents consent to their child opening an account after many raised concerns that they would need to enter data that could compromise their online security.

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