Anonymity online, long considered by civil rights groups as a fundamental feature of the internet, is coming under fire from different directions, and through a range of methods: from criticism by political elites, to actual legislation.
One kind of new law that can undermine or do away with online anonymity are those mandating age verification before users are allowed on a website. Another effect these rules have is increasing the uptake of digital IDs.
Earlier this week, Senator Josh Hawley introduced the Making Age-Verification Technology Uniform, Robust, and Effective (MATURE) Act, whose goal is to prevent minors under 16 from accessing social media.
In order to ensure this, all users would have to have their age verified before creating an account, by giving up information fully revealing their identity: legal name, date of birth and a copy of a government issued ID that proves this is their actual name and age.
Hawley’s explanation for this and similar initiatives is that social media is harmful to children, from monetizing their data to facilitating exploitation and manipulation. But the solution would clearly affect everyone’s privacy by further “unmasking” them to notorious data collectors and (ab)users, those same social sites.
Age verification is also being pushed in some states but, in Utah at least, the proposal that has just been adopted in the local Senate is leaving out the government ID requirement.
The bill, known as SB152 and which will next be considered in the House, makes it mandatory for companies behind social media platforms to make sure that children can sign up only with their parents’ consent. To ensure this is the case, the ages of all users would be verified.
However, how exactly these companies can accomplish that remains unclear for now, while the bill’s sponsor, state State Senator Mike McKell, is quoted as saying that “there are third-party options that use various technologies to verify ages without government IDs.”
Facial recognition is mentioned in reports as one such option, while another is to use “existing consumer data.” Once again, the need for such legislation is explained as a way to protect children from bad influences online.
In January, legislators in Arkansas got busy pushing a new bill that would verify age, possibly through a digital ID. Here, the idea is to limit access of minors to adult sites, and if passed, it would also introduce liability to sites who do not comply.
Inspired by a similar piece of legislation, HB142, that became law in Louisiana at the start of the year, this one would require all visitors to prove their age by presenting government-issued ID, or what’s described as “a commercially reasonable method that relies on public or private transactional data.”
In Louisiana, the method is the LA Wallet app that contains a digital driver’s license and a health card, but Arkansas doesn’t have a Digital ID yet – although, officials are hinting that they are strongly considering introducing one. As for how things are going in Louisiana, reports suggest that people unwilling to hand over their personally identifiable data are simply using VPNs.
There’s no reason to think minors aren’t among them, so the sum total of these legislative efforts seems to be stripping as many internet users of their anonymity as possible, while failing to effectively shield children from inappropriate content….