Indiana state Sen. Mike Bohacek has recently introduced a preliminary draft of an age verification bill aimed at restricting minors’ access to adult content online. Modeled after similar legislation in states like Louisiana, Texas, and Utah, the bill proposes criminal penalties for websites failing to implement age verification measures for users from Indiana-based IP addresses. However, legal experts and critics argue that the bill raises serious constitutional concerns and may infringe upon the First Amendment rights of adult users.
The proposed legislation would establish criminal penalties for adult-oriented websites that knowingly or intentionally publish content without implementing reasonable age verification methods. A Class A misdemeanor would be applied initially, but repeat offenders or those found liable in civil actions could face level 6 felony charges.
The bill specifically targets transnational pornography websites and their parent companies, particularly those based in Canada and Cyprus. Violators failing to comply with age verification requirements would be subject to misdemeanor charges, with the possibility of felony charges for those with a criminal history or found liable in civil actions.
Critics argue that Bohacek’s proposal may be unconstitutional, as it potentially infringes upon the First Amendment rights of adults to access consensual and protected content. The bill’s language suggests a strict approach to age verification, but legal precedents, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, have questioned the constitutionality of such measures.
Ohio state Rep. Steve Demetriou’s similar proposal faces criticism for its extreme nature, including felony charges for website owners and users attempting to circumvent age-gate requirements through VPNs or proxies. While Bohacek emphasizes that his intention is not to limit adults’ rights, opponents argue that the bill may overstep legal boundaries established by previous court decisions.
The bill faces an uphill battle given the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, which deemed government-mandated age verification for online content unconstitutional. Additionally, a federal judge in Austin found a comparable Texas bill to violate both the First Amendment and privacy rights of adult site users.
Indiana’s proposed age verification bill, while aiming to protect minors from explicit content, has sparked concerns over its constitutionality and potential infringement on the First Amendment rights of legal adults. As the debate unfolds, the bill’s fate may hinge on its alignment with established legal precedents and the balance it strikes between protecting minors and preserving the rights of consenting adults.