Bill Aims to Protect Minors from Exposure to Explicit Content
A new bill, named the Shielding Children’s Retinas from Egregious Exposure on the Net (SCREEN) Act, has been introduced with the aim of protecting minors from accessing explicit content on pornographic websites. The bill directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a rule requiring these websites to implement age verification technology, ensuring that minors are prevented from accessing such content.
Verification Methods and Compliance Oversight
Under the bill, websites have the autonomy to choose their own verification method, as long as it meets FCC standards and effectively prevents minors from accessing explicit material. The FCC will be tasked with overseeing compliance, allowing third-party verification providers to ensure that no identifiable user data is shared with the government.
Enforcement and Penalties
If approved, the bill would grant the FCC the authority to enforce the rule by imposing penalties and providing injunctive relief. Prior to strict enforcement, warnings will be issued to allow websites the opportunity to rectify any violations. However, enforcement measures will only be implemented after a website has shown persistent non-compliance for a period of 30 days.
Past Attempts and Supreme Court Invalidations
Congress has previously passed several bills aimed at restricting children’s access to online pornography over the past three decades. However, with the exception of one, all of these bills were invalidated by the Supreme Court due to their failure to meet First Amendment standards. The court acknowledged Congress’s valid interest in protecting children from explicit content but found that the methods employed were not the least intrusive. The court even suggested that personal “blocking and filtering software” could serve as a more lenient alternative.
The Psychological Effects on Minors
According to the analysis of the bill, pornography has been found to have “unique psychological effects” on minors, including anxiety, addiction, low self-esteem, body-image disorders, an increase in problematic sexual activity at younger ages, and an increased desire among minors to engage in risky sexual behavior. The bill argues that age verification technology now provides the least restrictive means for Congress to achieve its compelling government interest of shielding children from online pornographic content.
Opposition and Legal Challenges
While the bill aims to protect minors from explicit content online, it is likely to face opposition. In September, a federal judge struck down a similar law in Texas that required age verification and health warnings on pornographic websites, citing violations of free speech rights and overbreadth. Similar age verification laws in Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, and Louisiana have also faced legal challenges.
The passage of the Shielding Children’s Retinas from Egregious Exposure on the Net (SCREEN) Act will require careful consideration and may encounter legal obstacles along the way.
(This article includes reporting from the Associated Press.)