Committee Hearing Scheduled for AV Bill in California Assembly

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—A new bill calling for adult websites to verify that visitors are 18 years of age or older in order to access their content is slated for a hearing next week before the California Assembly's Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee.

The bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 3080, was introduced February 16 by Assembly Member Juan Alanis, a Republican from Modesto. A "copycat" bill modeled after similar age verification measures that have been passed in 11 other U.S. states starting with Louisiana, AB 3080, titled "Age Verification for Internet Websites Containing Obscene and Indecent Material," is written as a "bounty law," meaning it relies upon private citizens for enforcement. 

This is the same way that Utah's age verification law, Senate Bill 287—which is currently being challenged at the Tenth Circuit by the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) and other industry stakeholders—is structured.

The language of AB 3080 in its current form reads: "A covered platform that publishes or distributes material harmful to minors shall do the following: (a) Perform reasonable age verification methods to verify the age of each individual attempting to access the material. (b) Prevent access by minors to the material." It goes on to establish that "A parent or legal guardian of a minor may bring a civil action against any covered platform for violating this title with respect to the minor."

Prescribed punishments in the bill are civil fines of $5,000 per violation of the requirement to perform age verification, and $10,000 per "harmful" image sent to a minor in violation of the requirement to prevent access by minors to such material.

The bill makes two other interesting stipulations; firstly, as a presumed preemptive strike against the privacy concerns raised by opponents of other age verification legislation around the country, it decrees that "a covered platform, or any third party, that performs age verification ... shall not retain any identifying information of the individual after access has been granted to the material." Taking this privision one step further, it adds that "Any individaul may bring a civil action against a covered platfrom for a violation" of such—i.e. if an adult site were found to have kept a record of any identifying documention used to access it (such as a driver's license, government-issued ID or, interestingly, a credit or debit card), it would become subject to a civil lawsuit by the consumer who did so.

Additionally—in what appears to be another preemptive clause against possible challenges—the AB 3080 draft states: "An individual may bring an action under this title regardless of whether another court has declared any provision of this title unconstitutional unless that court decision is binding on the court in which the action is brought."

If AB 3080 passes out of committee, it will be given a reading before the full State Assembly.