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Bill would require porn filters on every cell phone sold in Utah

Posted at 10:19 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 07:11:54-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill on Capitol Hill would require any cell phone sold in Utah to come with a filter on it blocking pornographic material. While bill sponsors say it's to protect children, it faced a lot of opposition at a House committee hearing Wednesday.

HB 72 is simple, backers say: Require cell phone and tablet manufacturers to sell devices with content filters to block pornographic material already turned on.

If they don't, the manufacturer could face a couple thousand dollars in fines. If a child gets access to "harmful material" on that device, the manufacture could also face a penalty.

But that's why many said HB 72 is problematic, poking holes in the legislation during Wednesday's hearing that ended with putting the bill on hold.

Representative Susan Pulsipher (R-South Jordan) introduced HB 72 during the House Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee, saying that she knows someone who was inadvertently exposed to porn when he was about 9 or 10 years old.

This exposure, she said, would affect him for years-- leading to a negative impact on his marriage, on being a father and on his work and social interactions.

She felt HB 72 was a small way to help prevent children from accidentally gaining access to porn.

Adults over 18 would get some sort of passcode to turn the filters off, Rep. Pulsipher explained.

Read: Porn sites start complying with Utah warning label law

"We're not asking to do something that we don't already have on our devices," she said. "We're just asking to have those filters turned on, to just make it a little bit easier for parents and safer for our kids."

Many applauded her bill during the hearing, namely moms who described the difficulty in turning on content-blocking filters on their children's phones.

Eleanor Gaeton, Director of Public Policy at the National Center for Sexual Exploitation, said that research demonstrates the link between porn exposure and detrimental effects on the brain.

She said porn also puts individuals at increased risk for committing sexual offenses they witness.

Gaeton and Chris McKenna, Founder and CEO of Protect Young Eyes, talked about needing to prevent that harm done to a child who stumbles upon pornographic content inadvertently.

"We will prevent early accidental exposure to potentially life-altering content for Utah children," McKenna, of HB 72.

But several also spoke out against the bill, explaining that it's extremely problematic.

Yes, children accessing porn is bad, they all agreed.

But it's also not a great idea to require a cell phone manufacturer to decide what content to filter, some argued.

Cameron Demetre, Executive Director for California and the Southwest at TechNet said the blocking and filtering capabilities just don't make this bill feasible, and compliance would not be possible.

"The constitutional problems with this bill are numerous," said Carl Szabo, VP and general counsel at NetChoice.

"Although well-intentioned, CTIA believes this bill is not necessary and is unworkable," echoed Lisa McCabe with CTIA, a trade association for wireless communications industry.

Dave Davis, President of Utah Retail Merchants Association and Todd Bingham with the Utah Manufacturers Assocation each focused on the impact to cell phone manufacturers.

Bingham said trying to restrict a manufacturer and make them liable for content on the device they sell is akin to making Sony or Samsung liable because a child got access to HBO on one of their devices.

Davis said it would constrict the supply of smart devices into Utah, because big manufacturers would not make uniquely configured devices. This would then push people to buy devices outside the state, he said.

"I think that there are some significant problems with this bill, that are going to result in some very important, unintended consequences," he said.

While some legislators on the committee expressed support of the bill, others discussed having concerns with it.

In the end, they adjourned the meeting without moving the bill forward and it's on hold.

However, the committee did approve a bill substitute that states that the bill will not go into effect until five additional states have adopted similar language. It gives a 10-year period for that to occur.

Child psychologist Douglas Goldsmith said he's seen children who have become addicted to pornographic sites. He spoke to Fox 13 about his thoughts on the bill, saying the filter is a false sense of security.

"The problem is how vast the access is," he said. "They can go on YouTube and find this information, they can go on Tik Tok, they can go on Reddit, on any of these sites they can find stuff that we don't want our children looking at."

Even if a filter is put into place, he said kids find ways to share passwords or turn the filters off.

"Parents don't understand that they should be sitting next to their children when they're on an iPad, and even just when they're on the internet," he said.

What he suggests: Relying on education, not just a content-blocking filter.

"Parents need to be really informing themselves more of all of the dangers of the internet," he said. "Because it's not just porn. There's a ton of danger on the internet."