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Federal judge blocks Mississippi online age verification law

A federal judge has issued an injunction halting a Mississippi law requiring online platforms to verify the ages of users.

Mississippi lawmakers, parroting measures passed by legislatures in several other states, passed House Bill 1126 this year, saying it would protect children from explicit online content. The law was set to take effect Monday, but the tech industry group NetChoice sued the state in June, claiming it would unconstitutionally limit adults’ free speech and privacy.

U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden granted NetChoice’s request for a preliminary injunction halting the law while the case moves forward. He said the plaintiff’s claim shows “a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its claim” of the unconstitutionality of the law.

NetChoice is fighting similar laws in other states and has secured several similar injunctions.

“An unconstitutional law will protect no one,”Chris Marchese, director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, said in a statement. “We’re pleased the court sided with the First Amendment and stopped Mississippi’s law from censoring online speech, limiting access to lawful information and undermining user privacy and security as our case proceeds. We look forward to seeing the law struck down permanently.

“If HB 1126 ultimately takes effect, mandating age and identity verification for digital services will undermine privacy and stifle the free exchange of ideas. Mississippi also  commandeers websites to censor broad categories of protected speech, blocking access to important educational resources. Mississippians have a First Amendment right to access lawful information online free from government censorship.”

The Mississippi law, authored by Rep. Jill Ford, R-Madison, is called the “Walker Montgomery Protecting Children Online Act,” named after a Mississippi teen who reportedly committed suicide after an overseas online predator threatened to blackmail him.

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