Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a First Amendment nonprofit, launched a lawsuit against the state of Utah, challenging a new state law requiring invasive age verification for social media users.
The law, The Utah Social Media Regulation Act, was passed last March and aims to restrict minors’ access to social media and the kind of content they can encounter once online. The law will require all social media users to verify their age through privacy-invading methods such as a facial scan, uploading their driver’s license, or giving the last four digits of their social security number. Additionally, minors will be required to obtain parental permission before they can create a social media account. Once online, the law forces social media companies to severely restrict minors’ ability to find new content and accounts, and limit when they can message others on the platforms.
“The idea that some types of social media use by some minors under certain conditions can adversely affect some segment of this cohort is no basis for imposing state restrictions on all social media use by all minors—just as the State does not (and cannot) keep all books under lock and key because some are inappropriate for some children,” FIRE’s suit reads. “Although the Act purports to aid parental authority, it imposes ‘what the State thinks parents ought to want’…while ignoring the ways parents can already regulate their children’s access to and use of social media. “
FIRE’s lawsuit argues that the law violates the First Amendment, pointing out that it forces social media companies to restrict users’ access to protected expression. The complaint claims that the law’s age verification requirements amount to a prior restraint on expression that limits “all Utahns’ ability to access important sources of information and social interaction.”
Further, the suit argues that the law’s provisions are overbroad and lead to the unnecessary suppression of protected speech. “Without even pretending to regulate speech only in the narrowly defined categories of unprotected speech, the deprives all minors of access to a powerful medium of communication without regard to their informational needs or level of maturity, merely because (the State believes) access to some information by some minors may be detrimental,” the complaint reads. “Also, restricting adults’ access to a communications medium as a means of protecting minors is inherently overbroad.”
In all, the suit argues that the law obviously violates the First Amendment in its quest to restrict minors’ access to social media sites—and in doing so, requires all Utahns who want to use social media to give massive social media companies access to sensitive identifying information.
“This law will require me and my mom to give sensitive personal information to major tech companies simply to access platforms that have been an integral part of my development, giving me a sense of community and really just helping me figure out who I am as a person,” said Hannah Zoulek, a Utah high school student and plaintiff in the case. “Growing up already isn’t easy, and the government making it harder to talk with people who have similar experiences to mine just makes it even more difficult.”