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Utah legislature passes bill to require porn filters on mobile devices sold in state

Utah legislature passes bill to require porn filters on mobile devices sold in state

A man views his cell phone.

The Utah legislature passed legislation last week that would require filter mechanisms on smart devices sold in the state to prevent users from accessing pornography and other information harmful to minors, a move sexual exploitation advocates applaud. 

National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a leading national activist group exposing sexual exploitation in the United States, praised the passage of Utah’s House Bill 72. The measure seeks to protect children from viewing inappropriate sexual content online. 

“Utah has passed a critical, common sense solution to help protect vulnerable children from accessing harmful pornographic content on phones and tablets,” NCOSE Senior Vice President and Executive Director Dawn Hawkins said in a statement.

Benjamin Bull, NCOSE’s senior vice president, general counsel and law center director,told The Christian Post in a Monday interview that this measure is the first of its kind and is just the first step in protecting children and families from unsolicited sexual content.

“This is an incremental step,” Bull said. “It won’t cure the problem. The only thing that will stop the total problem is aggressive federal enforcement of existing laws to stop companies like Porn Hub … from polluting the internet with hardcore pornography. This is an incremental step that will protect some children. It’s a first step that we can build off going forward.”

All devices have filters to restrict content, but the default position for filtering content is turned “off” when the device is initially sold. The bill requires content filters to block explicit material on smart devices sold in Utah to be turned “on.”

The bill requires the default filter on all devices such as smartphones and tablets sold in the Beehive State to automatically enable a filter to block material considered “harmful to minors.”

“We’re demanding that providers of electronic communications, anything accessing the internet, should have greater ability to protect children and families from unwanted pornographic material,” Bull said.

Adults will be given a PIN to deactivate the filter if they choose, but children will not receive a PIN to remove the filter.

Hawkins said the current guardrails on devices against sexually explicit material make it very difficult for parents to shield their children from viewing inappropriate material online.

“This ensures that the devices are effective for protecting minors while being unrestrictive on adults,” Hawkins shared. “While these filters are already available on most devices now, on an Apple device, for example, it takes 20+ complicated steps to turn them on, leaving most parents helpless to protect their kids online.”

Hawkins explained how Utah’s measure could protect children from unwanted harm and trauma in the future by restricting internet access now.

“There are countless heartbreaking stories of the harm caused by children’s unhindered access to Internet devices — including the individual and familial trauma of pornography exposure and addiction and adult predators targeting and grooming kids online,” Hawkins said. “We commend the Utah legislature for passing this bill that will aid parents in protecting their children from unwanted exposure to pornography.”

The bill also allows a civil penalty of up to $10 for each violation of the legislation. A portion of the fine would be provided to the Crime Victims Reparations Fund.

Proponents of the bill admit the bill is imperfect but point out that it will not take effect until five other states pass a similar law.

“It gives us years, most likely, to iron out all of the problems, if there are problems,” Republican Sen. Todd Weiler said Thursday, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “But it does send a strong message.”

Rep. Susan Pulsipher was the chief sponsor of the bill passed last week. The bill awaits a signature from Republican Gov. Spencer Cox. 

The bill will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, if five other states implement similar measures. Utah’s Senate passed the legislation 19-6 after the bill passed the House with a 41-30 vote.

“There is no doubt in my mind that five states will enact this or similar legislation,” Bull argued. “Once again, Utah is a leader in this area.”

Bull explained five other states must also implement the bill since Utah alone is such a small market. With other states’ support, the legislation would be harder for leading technology manufacturers like Verizon and Apple to ignore.

“In order to gain sufficient legislative support to pass it, we agreed that it would become effective when five other states pass similar legislation and that would create a sufficient market force …,” Bull said. “They would have to adapt their business practices to a basically six-state market.”

Bull said Idaho, Montana and Missouri, among other statehouses, are considering similar legislation.

“We feel like we have started a good legislative movement, and we think it’s going to encourage other states. And I think it’s going to happen rapidly,” Bull shared.

Utah and other states have taken steps to address the public health repercussions of pornography. 

In April 2016, former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution deeming pornography a “public health crisis.”

Around 70% of children between seven and 18 years old have accidentally encountered pornography online, and 90% of children between eight and 16 years old have seen online pornography, Guard Child reports, citing a compilation of child internet crime and abuse statistics from a variety of online resources.

The average age a child receives his first phone is just over 10 years old, and screen time for children has more than doubled throughout the pandemic, according to Internet Safety 101.

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