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Opinion | New law invades privacy in name of protection

It reeks of a deeper, more sinister agenda: an assault on privacy and adult freedoms.

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In a recent and deeply troubling development, Alabama has enacted a new law—dubbed the “porn ID law”—which demands that pornographic websites verify the age of their visitors by requiring a government-issued photo ID before granting access. Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature has transformed this bill into law, further solidifying the state’s march toward invasive oversight under the guise of moral governance. This measure, fervently supported by figures like state Rep. Susan DuBose and other GOP members, purportedly aims to protect the youth from early exposure to adult content. Yet, it reeks of a deeper, more sinister agenda: an assault on privacy and adult freedoms, packaged neatly within the moralistic rhetoric of protection.

DuBose, known for championing restrictive bills, justifies HB164 as a necessary response to concerns from parents and grandparents about the availability of pornographic content to adolescents, particularly boys aged 10 to 12. However, these claims stand unsubstantiated, revealing a pattern that is less about genuine societal benefit and more about pushing a narrow, religiously-driven orthodoxy that aims to dictate personal liberties.

Critics argue that the law is but a tool for the religious right to impose their ideals on Alabama’s citizens, exploiting legislative power to police private behaviors and coerce conformity. The age verification requirement, while seemingly benign in its intent to shield minors, also forces adults into a compromising position where accessing legal content requires them to forfeit their anonymity and privacy. This isn’t just about protecting children—it’s about monitoring and controlling adult behaviors, a troubling step toward a surveillance state.

Furthermore, this law aligns with broader, national efforts by conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, to reshape privacy laws to grant governmental entities greater control over what adults can view or consume in the privacy of their homes. Such initiatives are not isolated incidents but part of a concerted push toward expanding state power over personal freedoms.

The operational implications of HB164 are also alarming. All adult content platforms operating within Alabama are now required to register with the state and maintain age and consent records of performers for at least five years, available for inspection by law enforcement at any time. While federal law already mandates record-keeping for adult entertainment companies, this state-level redundancy underscores the intent to intimidate and possibly litigate against these companies, driving some to cease operations in Alabama altogether.

The resistance to such overreach is palpable and has precedents. Similar to Texas’s age verification law, which faced immediate legal challenges and led to major platforms like Pornhub blocking access to users within the state, HB164 is likely headed toward a contentious legal battleground. The law’s imposition of “public health” labels on adult websites—akin to warnings on cigarette packs or liquor bottles—further stigmatizes and misconstrues the consumption of adult content, a move that lacks backing by scientific consensus or medical authority.

This legislative trend raises fundamental questions about the balance of individual rights and state power. With each state potentially crafting its own regulations governing the access and distribution of online content, the uniform application of First Amendment protections becomes fragmented, leaving the door open for significant legal disputes and a patchwork of compliance challenges that could affect users nationwide.

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Alabama’s costly legal ventures defending controversial laws should be a warning. The state has already expended millions in taxpayer dollars in litigation over privacy-related issues, including laws targeting the rights of transgender youths. With the Attorney General’s office now burdened with enforcing this new “porn ID” law, one must question the prudence and priorities of Alabama’s legislative agenda.

As citizens and stewards of our own rights, we must scrutinize and challenge these invasive laws that threaten our privacy under the pretext of protection. The issue here transcends the mere regulation of adult content; it’s about safeguarding our fundamental freedoms against an overreaching state. Alabama, it seems, has set its sights not just on what its citizens can view, but on how tightly it can grip the very freedoms that define them.

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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