Rhode Island Law Would Mandate Porn Filters, Charge You $20 Per Device To Bypass Them

from the good-luck-with-that dept

Rhode Island lawmakers are proposing a new law (pdf) that would force ISPs to filter pornography and other "patently offensive material." It would then force state residents interested in viewing porn to pony up a one-time $20 "digital access fee" to whitelist the internet's naughty bits for each internet-connected device in the home, the money purportedly going toward helping combat human trafficking. ISPs would be required to build entire new support systems (on their dime) to help combat porn, and would face fines of $500 for each instance of offensive content that ISPs failed to censor.

The bill is worded vaguely enough to suggest that hardware vendors could also be held liable if they failed to help censor said "patently offensive" material:

"If a person who manufacturers, sells, offers for sale, leases, or distributes a product that makes content accessible on the Internet is unresponsive to a report of sexual content or patently offensive material that has breached the filter required by this section, the attorney general or a consumer may file a civil suit. The attorney general or a consumer may seek damages of up to five hundred dollars ($500) for each piece of content that was reported but not subsequently blocked. The prevailing party in the civil action may seek attorneys' fees."

Upon initial inspection, this awful proposal would just appear to be garden-variety vanilla stupid. It's technically impossible, annoyingly expensive, unlikely to ever pass, and (like most filter programs) would likely only cause collateral damage to the access of legitimate content. But the proposal is actually just one of more than a dozen similar proposals winding their way through numerous state legislatures. All of these bills follow the same, absurd playbook, and all falsely try to use child trafficking as a bogus straw man to justify censorship.

And they're all being spearheaded by a man named Chris Sevier, whose checkered history suggests he shouldn't be writing love notes on cocktail napkins, much less helping craft state-level legislation:

"Chris Sevier, 40, who sometimes goes by Mark Sevier in court and Chris Severe in communications with state legislators, has a contentious and often intentionally provocative relationship with the American court system that is news to at least some of the bill’s co-sponsors. He once famously tried to legally marry his computer to protest same-sex marriage, and was charged with stalking and harassing both country star John Rich and a 17-year-old girl."

Lovely. Sevier's war on porn, and his effort to obfuscate his real agenda by professing to be combating human trafficking, isn't new. Sevier has also filed suit against Apple in the past for the company's failure to implement more robust porn filters. Said lawsuit was jam-packed with spelling and other errors, and he claimed that Apple's failure to police porn resulted him in seeing "pornographic images that appealed to his biological sensibilities as a male and lead to an unwanted addiction with adverse consequences."

Somehow, Sevier has had some notable success convincing lawmakers to push their own versions of the same draft legislation. We've covered previous iterations of these efforts, which all use human trafficking as a bogeyman to justify ham-fisted and technologically unworkable censorship efforts. South Carolina Senator Bill Chumley pushed one-such incarnation of this effort in late 2016. We've also covered similar efforts in Virginia. Time and time again, the lawmakers backing these proposals fail utterly in explaining how their legislation actually harms human trafficking in any material way.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation last week did a good job highlighting the scope of this absurdity, noting that more than fifteen states are now pushing some flavor of the “Human Trafficking Prevention Act” (HTPA). Again, none of the bills actually do anything to stop human trafficking, but do appear to enjoy using the subject to obfuscate the problems inherent in hysterical puritanical hyperventilation and censorship. And as the EFF notes, the fact that these proposals are logistically unworkable doesn't appear to bother their backers in the slightest:

"The bill would force the companies we rely upon for open access to the Internet to create a massive, easily abused censorship apparatus. Tech companies would be required to operate call centers or online reporting centers to monitor complaints about which sites should or should not be filtered. The technical requirements for this kind of aggressive platform censorship at scale are simply unworkable. If the attempts of social media sites to censor pornographic images are any indication, we cannot count on algorithms to distinguish, for example, nude art from medical information from pornography. Facing risk of legal liability, companies would likely over-censor and sweep up legal content in their censorship net.

Numerous states (like New Mexico) have backed off their own proposals after the EFF raised the alarm, but it remains stunning just how much traction these efforts have seen despite being technologically impossible, hugely expensive, utterly disingenuous, and the intellectual and legislative equivalent of some random internet troll's epic brain fart.


Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 7:16am

    Think of the fun..

    ..when *that* subscriber list leaks.

    Do Hotels get to pay once, then charge every customer the fee and pocket it? What a boon to the travel industry!

    Of course, government buildings and devices will be exempt...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 8:37am

    It has been tweaked a bit to make it "opt-in" for free but $20.00 to change your mind and un block. Still completely asinine.
    "A senator in Rhode Island has introduced a bill that would require internet providers to block sexual and offensive content upon a customer’s requests.

    Sen. Frank A. Ciccone, a Democrat who represents Providence and North Providence, said it would block content, such as pornography.

    “Everyone knows the internet can be a harmful and dangerous environment for our children,” Ciccone noted in a press release Tuesday. “Our kids now have easy access to materials that no child should be viewing, such as pornography and other highly offensive or disturbing material. The purpose of this legislation is to first and foremost protect our children from viewing websites that could have possible detrimental effects to their psyches and developmental process. And I want to be clear, the intent of this bill is to require that digital blocks on this kind of material be available to parents if they so choose to use it.”

    If the customer changes his or her mind, a $20 unblocking fee would be assessed and the money would go to the Council on Human Trafficking.

    Ciccone said the bill is a work in progress, adding that changes are likely." http://turnto10.com/politics/bill-would-allow-blocking-pornography-offensive-material-from-web

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 9:38am

      Re: Best & Brightest

      ... this how American government is supposed to work -- jt's a feature not a bug.

      We send our best & brightest to local/state/federal legislatures as our representatives to run things and develop innovative solutions to the many big problems that we ordinary people can't handle (..like pornography and the amount of water in your home toilet flush).

      Criticizing our hard working government officials is counter productive and petty. /S

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 8:42am

    If the ".XXX" domain is ever put in place, this'd be trivial "technologically", as you over-syllabalize it?

    I think it'd be reasonable to require web-sites to self-identify for such content. It'd save a lot of time.

    In any case, you guys -- and you're ALL "guys" -- don't object to "Not Safe For Work" labels, right? This is same principle, perhaps a bit too far extended.


    By the way, what IS a "bogus straw man"? When you add a negative adjective to an already negative idiom, it just confuses, see?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 8:55am

      Re: If the ".XXX" domain is ever put in place, this'd be trivial "technologically", as you over-syllabalize it?

      "I think it'd be reasonable to require web-sites to self-identify for such content. It'd save a lot of time."

      No, it really wouldn't. The bureaucracy needed to ensure compliance would be nightmarish, as would trying to determine what the parameters would be globally (and it would need to be global to have any effect whatsoever).

      On a purely technical level, you're right in saying that it would be trivial. Politically and sociologically? We'll all be long dead before the rules are agreed upon, let alone implemented.

      But, hey, it sounds simple if you don't think things through, so of course you'd be in favour.

      "and you're ALL "guys""

      I'm sure that Wendy, among other female commenters who post here regularly, will be surprised to hear that. But, hey, it wouldn't be a post from you without you lying about objective reality, would it?

      "don't object to "Not Safe For Work" labels, right"

      No, most people don't object to non-binding, voluntary warnings that are offered largely as a courtesy. But, none of those things apply either to the law in the article nor your "solution".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 9:59am

        Re: Re: If the ".XXX" domain is ever put in place, this'd be trivial "technologically", as you over-syllabalize it?

        On the internet guys are guys, girls are guys, little boys are guys and little girls are FBI agents in disguise. /blue

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2018 @ 8:05am

          Re: Re: Re: If the ".XXX" domain is ever put in place, this'd be trivial "technologically", as you over-syllabalize it?

          On the internet, no one knows you are a dog

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 4:52pm

        Re: Re: If the ".XXX" domain is ever put in place, this'd be trivial "technologically", as you over-syllabalize it?

        Psst. There are no women on the internet. Also, women don't look at porn. Ever.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 8 Mar 2018 @ 7:24am

        Re: Re: If the ".XXX" domain is ever put in place, this'd be trivial "technologically", as you over-syllabalize it?

        I'm definitely female, Blue.

        I'm with PaulT on this because he's right. Heck, we tried this in the UK and ended up blocking child helplines, etc. because it turns out algorithms aren't as good at making judgement calls as human beings with a bit of common sense.

        Besides, websites already announce that they're "Dirty nasty porno creepy XXXXX," complete with lurid images. What more do you want them to do? Silly Blue, go take your meds and let the grownups do the talking.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 8 Mar 2018 @ 7:44am

          Re: Re: Re: If the ".XXX" domain is ever put in place, this'd be trivial "technologically", as you over-syllabalize it?

          "Heck, we tried this in the UK and ended up blocking child helplines, etc. because it turns out algorithms aren't as good at making judgement calls as human beings with a bit of common sense."

          The fun thing he's not asking for algorithms in this case. The hare brained idea he's referring to is the idea that if porn sites are forced to use the .xxx TLD instead of .com or whatever, then they would be easy to filter.

          Which is actually correct, but this gloriously simplistic idea fails badly when applied to the real world. First, how do you determine whether a site is porn or not? Full hardcore video might be easy, but there's a lot of grey areas after that. Then, of course, if the rules are only applicable to the US you have to make it a worldwide scheme. You'll then have the battle between countries who think it's OK for 16 year olds to be openly having sex vs. countries that think that the average teen pop star is no different from a porn star. Then, how do you account for new sites, how do you punish those that still manage to bypass the scheme (and they always will), how do you enforce the rules internationally, etc.

          So, as I said - he's right in that on a technological level such a scheme would be trivial, and somewhat effective (though it could never be perfect). The political and societal efforts needed to put it in place, however, would be astoundingly lengthy and costly and would not result in something that's anywhere near effective enough to justify that.

          But, it sounds good to idiots who don't think things through for 5 seconds, so it is perfect for his needs.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2018 @ 7:38pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Pornography is the sort of issue that drives copyright nutjob moralists absolutely around the bend.

            On the one hand, pornography is what allows them to demand laws for Internet filtering, masked as pornography bills, because they get to argue from the "for the children" perspective.

            On the other hand, access to pornography would fund producers of such content, which is important since focusing on porn IP enforcement (read: porn trolling) is much easier to push than music or movie downloads. It's long been suspected by Rob Cashman that the MPAA has been biding their time, waiting for Malibu Media to gain some leverage in the courts, so they can go back to firing settlement letters unchallenged. Making it harder to access porn is just going to drive actual users away from the producers' sites, which means less funding for the copyright enforcers' war chests.

            But it's not like copyright enforcers have had a reputation for actually thinking things through, never mind blue boy.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 4:33pm

      How is this legal?

      Under common law.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 8:43am

    Who get the $20 every time someone buys a new device, the company doing the work or the state?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 7 Mar 2018 @ 8:51am

    I am a parent. I worry about what my children will find on the internet. I worry about what my children will find in my back yard.

    I have not asked anyone to provide me with internet filters or back yard filters. I AM THE FILTER.

    Parenting is hard work. If you think the government should be filtering out porn on the internet to make your job easier as a parent, I would suggest you should not become a parent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 8:55am

      Re:

      Well said. If only your attitude was the norm. Alas...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 10:02am

      Re:

      Dredd? Is that you?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 3:10pm

      Re:

      If you think the government should be filtering out porn on the internet to make your job easier as a parent

      Do children even want porn? In my experience, before puberty they'll think it's gross or be annoyed that it isn't what they were looking for. Or they'll show another kid, just to gross them out or cause trouble because its forbidden.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 9:03am

    Where is all this goofy "porn tax" shit coming from all of a sudden?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2018 @ 8:07am

      Re:

      Probably from the hypocrites who look the other way when confronted with transgressions committed by those they seek to advance.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 8 Mar 2018 @ 8:24am

        Re: Re:

        Also, it's a mid term election year for many places in the US, and "think of the children" is as old a grandstanding tactic as "we don't understand it, so we'll tax it".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2018 @ 11:30am

      Re:

      There's been an increasing amount of pressure on politicians to curb sex trafficking (aka the abduction or cooercion of young people into prostitution).

      Unfortunately, it's an issue that has been blown out of proportion, and the usual suspects tied it into "porn is bad" rhetoric. So now we get this sort of law that's purportedly to help stop sex trafficking, but really is just puritanical bullshit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 9:24am

    I find such legislation to be "patently offensive".

    These self righteous dirt bags need to find a more reasonable source of revenue and they are also in need of new talking points for voter spin. The old and tired excuses for their draconian attitudes needs to be refreshed with new ideas, ones that the population needs, and I'm referring to the fact that poverty is increasing at an alarming rate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 7 Mar 2018 @ 9:29am

    I would like to propose a new law that causes any politician who proposes a law in direct conflict with the bill of rights to immediately lose their job and require a special election to get it back.

    It might make our politicians a little more careful about what they propose.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 9:30pm

      "It's clearly an addiction, so you need to pay to engage in it..."

      Require them to pay $20 if they want to run again as well, just to twist the knife and make a point.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 9:34am

    "would force"

    "The bill would force the companies we rely upon for open access to the Internet to create a massive, easily abused censorship apparatus."

    EFF themselves point out it's unconstitutional. So it wouldn't force them to do anything except go to court to get it thrown out. Which is a waste of time and money, but it'll be pretty quick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 7 Mar 2018 @ 9:51am

    A troll brain fart would at least be something of substance in those empty noggins.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NeghVar (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 10:03am

    VPN

    VPN to the rescue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 10:05am

    Next they'll mandate chastity belts and charge $20 to let you do what nature programmed you to do?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 10:09am

    Give them what they want

    I say that Rhode Island should let their bill pass and be the testing ground for whatever follows.

    Imagine you're AT&T or Comcast and have 1 million customers in the state. Now imagine each customer has 3 devices, so let's say there's 3 million devices. Now imagine each device comes with a $500 liability if someone finds adult content.

    These companies are looking at billions (or tens of billions) of dollars of risk. How long would it take to decide it's safer not to do business in the state rather than face this possibility?
    Then how long would it take for EVERY provider to not provide service in the state?

    You can talk all day along about how the market will provide for itself and there will always be a company willing to give service of some kind, but this seems like the perfect example of government making it too expensive to do business in the state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 7 Mar 2018 @ 3:43pm

      Re: Give them what they want

      These companies are looking at billions (or tens of billions) of dollars of risk. How long would it take to decide it's safer not to do business in the state rather than face this possibility?

      It would never happen. Companies are incapable of ignoring an established market, no matter how great the risk. They're like a guy who would run up 20 flights of stairs in a burning building to grab a single bar of gold.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anonymous, 7 Mar 2018 @ 10:30am

    Tax on free speech

    In one word, unconstitutional.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 12:18pm

    How well has that porn filter being run across that pond been working out for them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 12:21pm

    Dpes "Think of the children!!1!!1!!eleventy!!!!111!!1" even apply? Are these the over-the-edge evangelical types that believe any act that doesn't result in children is harmful?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 12:44pm

    I am patently offended...

    by such attacks on my rights and freedoms. I find them obscene.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 12:52pm

    Thats??

    That SUCKS??
    That F big Donkey D..
    That is a strange way to get more money for the state..Charge everyone another Tax on a TAX..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 3:18pm

    $20.mo is still cheaper than all the data plans out there.

    ....I'd pay it if it meant not having to deal with Comcast and co.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 7 Mar 2018 @ 3:32pm

    Waste of Taxpayer Money

    Given the trend of government employees using their government computers to surf porn sites all day...

    The Rhode Island state legislature is comprised of 38 senators and 75 representatives. That's 113 people surfing porn all day using taxpayer money. By the end of the week, I bet the state legislature will propose an appropriation bill for $2260.00.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 3:50pm

    Can we play "Spot the guy who think he has a porn addiction"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 4:20pm

    This proposal is "patently offensive"....

    I demand that the entire text be blocked from the internet and if the states leaders want to review it they can pay the $20 per device themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anony, 7 Mar 2018 @ 4:25pm

    Business opportunity

    To remove the filters for ten dollars

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Atkray (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 4:48pm

    RE: Rhode Island Law Would Mandate Porn Filters,

    Hey Karl, I think you spelled Utah wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2018 @ 4:49pm

    This is just crap Politicians do to keep busy. Instead of going home, and having a real job most of the time like it was long ago, not they have to keep writing more and more laws, even though crap like this will boss tossed out of court. wasting more taxpayer money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 4:54pm

    Why is this back again? Or perhaps, why did it take a vacation? Hmmm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 4:57pm

    Oh good lord, the porn filter bill is the Human Trafficking Prevention Act. Whiskey Tango Alpha Foxtrot, on approach.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    caravan70 (profile), 7 Mar 2018 @ 9:40pm

    Whenever you hear “protect our children” or “it’s for the children” in conjunction with a legislative proposal, be very afraid. Your rights are about to be curtailed in some way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2018 @ 12:27am

    Wrong Injury Claim

    "...he claimed that Apple's failure to police porn resulted him in seeing 'pornographic images that appealed to his biological sensibilities as a male and lead to an unwanted addiction with adverse consequences.'"

    The problem with that argument is that we know he was a sex-weirdo prior to Apple's "failure to police." Should have gone with "lead to brain damage." We don't know for certain that he was always an idiot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2018 @ 8:35am

    Stock Options?

    Do the sponsors of this stupid Bill own stock in VPN companies?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2018 @ 12:16pm

    ISPs could add an item on their subscription form asking "Do you want to be able to access websites? (yes/no)", call it "activation fee" and put it below the line.

    Business as usual for them, and for once it would be benefit the consumer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2018 @ 6:03pm

    Follow the money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.