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2 min read

Balancing Free Speech and Child Protection: NetChoice v. Bonta Case

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Safeguarding children's online experiences while preserving the principles of free speech has become an increasingly intricate task in the digital age. California's Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (CAADCA) has provoked constitutional concerns due to its potential implications. This blog post explores the recent case of NetChoice, LLC v. Bonta, where the court granted NetChoice a preliminary injunction against the CAADCA. By analyzing the arguments presented by NetChoice and the court's assessment of First Amendment implications, we can better understand the impact on digital privacy.

NetChoice's First Amendment Challenge

NetChoice, LLC, acting as a trade association for online providers, initiated a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the CAADCA. The core contention raised by NetChoice is that the CAADCA violates the First Amendment. They argue that its provisions impose unlawful prior restraints, exhibit overbreadth that renders them unconstitutional, and are overly vague. Additionally, NetChoice asserts that the mandates and prohibitions outlined in the CAADCA infringe upon protected expression and fall short of the required level of scrutiny.

Court's Assessment and Preliminary Injunction

In granting NetChoice's motion for a preliminary injunction, the court considered several factors: likelihood of success on the merits, likelihood of irreparable harm, balance of equities, and the public interest. The court determined that NetChoice had a substantial chance of proving that the CAADCA regulates speech and fails to meet the appropriate level of scrutiny. Consequently, the court issued the preliminary injunction, temporarily preventing the enforcement of the CAADCA.

Analysis of First Amendment Implications

The court carefully assessed the impact of the CAADCA on free speech, specifically examining whether it primarily regulates protected expression or business practices. NetChoice argued that the CAADCA encroaches upon protected expression, while the state contended that its focus is on regulating business practices. The court ultimately supported NetChoice, concluding that the CAADCA does regulate protected expression, including commercial speech.

Scrutiny Applied to Commercial Speech

In evaluating the constitutionality of the CAADCA, the court applied scrutiny standards to commercial speech, a specific category within protected expression. It analyzed three pivotal questions: Does the CAADCA regulate speech? Does the state have a substantial interest? Does the regulation directly advance that interest? The court's findings showed that the CAADCA's mandates and prohibitions do regulate speech but fail to directly advance the state's interest in a manner more extensive than necessary.

Implications for Digital Privacy

NetChoice put forth multiple arguments challenging specific provisions of the CAADCA. They contended that the age estimation provision, profiling provision, and various prohibitions lack narrow tailoring and fail the scrutiny applied to commercial speech. The court sided with NetChoice, expressing concerns that certain provisions may exacerbate the issue by allowing the collection of additional personal information without sufficient amendment tailored to achieve the state's interest.

Impact of the Preliminary Injunction

The preliminary injunction effectively halts the enforcement of the CAADCA, allowing online providers represented by NetChoice to operate without adhering to its mandates. This decision carries significant implications for the regulation of digital privacy. It highlights the delicate task of balancing child protection and preserving free speech rights in the digital realm.


The NetChoice, LLC v. Bonta case provides valuable insights into the intricate legal landscape surrounding digital privacy and the First Amendment in the context of child protection regulations. The court's decision to grant a preliminary injunction against the CAADCA highlights concerns related to potential infringements on protected speech and the lack of tailored measures to achieve the state's interest. As debates continue surrounding online privacy, free speech, and child protection, this case serves as a crucial milestone in shaping the evolving legal framework governing digital interactions.