Virginia’s Governor Should Veto AVS Bill SB 1515

Today, we asked Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to veto SB 1515, a copycat of Louisiana’s age verification mandate. Virginia’s bill is one of 29 age verification mandates passed or proposed in the United States so far that would require websites with at least 33.33% of content considered “harmful to minors” to comply with a vague age verification scheme or risk civil lawsuits.

We requested the governor veto this bill for four main reasons:

First, it simply will not work. Requiring websites to limit access to content in particular states betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of how the internet works. In fact, a recent study of middle schoolers (youth aged 11-14) found that 41% of them use a VPN to browse the internet.

Second, requiring users to transmit the extremely sensitive data needed to verify their age over the internet significantly endangers their privacy. Beyond the ever-present risk of that data being breached, we are already receiving reports in Louisiana of potential identity theft, as criminals set up phishing scams where they pose as an adult site and solicit the upload of identification documents.

Third, a large portion of both legal adults and minors who wish to avoid the law’s requirements will undoubtedly be driven to sites that are not bound by U.S. law. This will both punish responsible sites for compliance and expose those users to dangerous illegal content such as CSAM.

Finally, SB 1515 – and all age verification mandates like it – are blatantly unconstitutional. In Reno v. ACLU (1997), the Supreme Court struck down age verification mandates as an unconstitutional content-based blanket restriction on speech.

We agree with the Court that device-level filters are an ideal alternative – they are effective at blocking minors from accessing adult material and preserve parents’ authority to determine what content is appropriate for their children.

The Free Speech Coalition is eager to work with Governor Youngkin and other legislators to collaborate on a solution that is effective at shielding minors from explicit content and preserves the safety and constitutional rights of adults.

You can read our Executive Director’s full letter to the governor here.