Mar 17, 2023 - News

Utah governor Twitter-fights free speech lawyer over social media law

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Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted he "can't wait" for a lawsuit by a digital freedom group that calls Utah's new social media rules for minors unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Ari Cohn, a lawyer for TechFreedom, on Wednesday reposted a February letter from the group to Cox, arguing the governor shouldn't sign bills that force social media users to provide ID showing their age and, for minors, parental consent.

  • Cox responded: "Can’t wait to fight this lawsuit. You are wrong, and I’m excited to prove it."
  • Cohn replied, "Utah deserves better," to which Cox said, "You deserve better legal counsel," and "See you in court."

Why it matters: A lawsuit over the pending rules — Cox hadn't signed them as of Thursday but said he plans to — could be costly to Utah taxpayers.

  • Cox and Utah's AG Sean Reyes have previously said attorney fees will not dissuade them in a legal campaign against social media companies as they threatened to sue over harm they say the platforms cause to kids' health.

Catch up quick: The new rules would require all social media users to submit some form of age verification and provide evidence of parental consent if they're under age 18.

  • The state consumer protection office would decide which ID is acceptable and how minors would prove their parents' consent.
  • All users who fail to supply age verification would lose access to their accounts.

Details: The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down less-sweeping laws in the past three decades that limit minors' access to speech via social media, the TechFreedom letter argues.

  • They also pointed to privacy and security risks to users who would be required to transmit potentially sensitive documents and information online to access their accounts.

What they're saying: "Utah loses this lawsuit. Bigly. And I think Governor Cox knows this, which is why his response should have been more measured," wrote Adam Alba, a Salt Lake City attorney specializing in commercial litigation.

Of note: Cox later said his recommendation for "better legal counsel" was a "joke," but Cohn continued to criticize Cox's record on speech restrictions.

The other side: "My man!" tweeted state Sen. Dan McKay, in support of Cox's remarks.

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