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Congressional Think Tank Sees the Problem with Age Verification – Members Not so Much

Thanks to Techdirt I learned yesterday that the Congressional Research Service, which exists to study and inform Congress about the impacts of potential laws, has some issues with making all social media users verify their age.

We all should have some issues with it.

Among the issues we should have are the obvious, there’s a First Amendment that says we all have the right to free speech. Can the government limit the ability of minors to speak online? There are also the massive privacy implications of requiring everyone to verify who they are. Do we really want to give social media platforms driver’s licenses and other ID information? Really? We can’t trust them to handle that information securely. If anything they have already proven that the one thing we can trust them to do is sell any personal information they have about users.

The CRS also identifies another concern, what’s the standard? Is it a driver’s license? How do teens without one prove their age? What kind of facial recognition system can be trusted to compare a face with the photo on an ID? We know that facial recognition systems can struggle with certain kinds of faces, especially non-white ones. How do we design a fool-proof system that keeps kids away but allows all adults to without error?

It’s not that easy. I’d also add one more. Proving your identity and your age eliminates the ability for anyone to remain anonymous. You might argue that is a good thing, but I’ll take the opposite side. There are plenty of reasons for someone to remain anonymous online, and why we’d be worse off eliminating that. Whistleblowers, political dissidents of fascist governments, victims of childhood and spousal abuse, people dealing with mental health issues, women, the LGBTQ community, and many others have legitimate reasons to fear being identified. Do we want to eliminate them all from the public space?

Sadly, I suspect that some of us do. This will only help them reach that end online, all in the name of “protecting the children” from something that isn’t that much of a danger at all.

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