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Alabama’s new “Porn ID Law” raises privacy and rights concerns

The legislation doesn’t address the heightened risks of identity theft and breaches of privacy.

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In a move that has sparked outrage among privacy advocates, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has signed into law HB164, a bill requiring pornographic websites to verify users’ age through government-issued photo ID. Critics argue that this law is a continuation of anti-privacy legislation aimed at appeasing the religious right-wing of the state’s GOP, driven by a desire to enforce conformity on citizens through faith and coercion.

Sponsored by state Rep. Ben Robbins, R-Sylacauga, Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook and Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover,, the law dubbed the “porn ID law,” has been condemned as an invasion of personal privacy. DuBose, who has a history of sponsoring legislation to align with her religious views, asserts the law addresses parental concerns about children’s exposure to online pornography—claims for which she has notably provided no evidence.

This legislation is part of a broader trend influenced by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, aiming to reshape privacy laws and extend government oversight into the private lives of individuals. Critics warn that such measures give the government excessive control over what adults can read, view, and consume in their own homes.

Under HB164, any online platform that operates within Alabama’s digital jurisdiction must not only verify the age of its users but also register with the state and retain age and consent records of individuals in pornographic content for a minimum of five years. These records must be accessible to Alabama law enforcement at any time, although similar federal mandates are already broadly complied with by the industry.

This law mirrors a similar age verification statute in Texas, which has been embroiled in legal challenges. Notably, Pornhub, a major adult content provider, responded to the Texas law by blocking all IP addresses from the state, a move that was celebrated by anti-pornography activists and conservative politicians alike.

The controversy extends beyond mere age verification. HB164 also introduces “public health labeling” requirements for adult websites, drawing an unlikely parallel with consumer goods like electronic cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. This move has been criticized for lacking scientific basis, as no consensus exists within the medical community that views pornography as a public health crisis.

The legislation doesn’t address the heightened risks of identity theft and breaches of privacy. Additionally, the mandate for government-issued ID verification fails to consider those without such documentation, possibly barring them from legally accessing these websites.

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Furthermore, the efficacy of these laws is under scrutiny, evidenced by significant pornographic websites cutting off access to their services in states that impose rigorous age verification, rather than adhering to these rules. This situation highlights doubts about the feasibility and implementation of these laws.

The financial implications of such legislation are also significant. Alabama has historically spent millions in taxpayer dollars defending privacy-related laws, including those restricting medical treatments for transgender youths. The new law adds further financial burdens as the state’s Attorney General’s office takes on the responsibility of enforcing these controversial requirements.

With staggered effective dates, most provisions of HB164 will become enforceable starting October 1, 2024, with tax provisions taking effect the following year. As the legal and societal debates continue, one must wonder about the future of First Amendment rights and the varying standards of sexual expression across the United States.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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