Daily Beast Publishes Op-Ed by Cybersecurity Expert Questioning Age Verification Laws

Daily Beast Publishes Op-Ed by Cybersecurity Expert Questioning Age Verification Laws

LOS ANGELES — The Daily Beast yesterday published an opinion piece by a cybersecurity expert arguing that the current state-by-state legislative campaign to mandate age verification requirements for social media threatens online privacy and free speech.

The op-ed, titled “Social Media Age Requirements Are Anti-Free Speech,” is penned by Jeff Kosseff, associate professor of cybersecurity law in the United States Naval Academy's Cyber Science Department. In it, Kosseff explains that while age verification requirements have been promoted with the supposed goal of protecting children online, they actually “endanger the ability of Americans to operate anonymously online, as the laws require the collection of information from everyone regardless of age.”

Moreover, Kosseff points out, the various state laws being enacted across the country — under the leadership of religious conservatives, but often with bipartisan support — fail to specify what type of age verification is required.

“Indeed, their vagueness on that point suggests that nobody quite knows how to meet the requirements without creating massive privacy problems,” Kosseff notes, citing as examples the Utah law requiring parental consent for children under 18 to use social media, a copycat Arkansas law and the proposed federal “Protecting Kids on Social Media Act.”

As no company can currently guarantee the safety of personal information given the available technology, legislators wantonly display a “lack of concern for anonymity,” Kosseff contends.

“Debates about online harms often fuel calls for real-name requirements or other abrogations of anonymity,” he writes. “Although these proposals often are well intentioned, they ignore the prospect of silencing marginalized groups that do not have the luxury of speaking and receiving information under their real names.” 

Kosseff — author of the standard history of Section 230, “The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet” (2019) as well as the forthcoming “Liar in a Crowded Theater: Freedom of Speech in a World of Misinformation” — acknowledges legitimate concerns about the potential harms of social media for teenagers. However, he doubts that age verification requirements “are effective enough to survive a constitutional challenge.”

“If there is any possibility of dodging an identification requirement, there is a good chance that determined teenagers will figure out how to do so,” he concludes. “Yet millions of other social media users who play by the rules will have no choice but to turn over their personal information.”

To read “Social Media Age Requirements Are Anti-Free Speech,” visit TheDaily Beast.com.

Main Image: Jeff Kosseff (Photo: JeffKosseff.com)

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