Utah Governor Signs New Porn Filter Law That's Just Pointless, Performative Nonsense

from the round-and-round-you-go dept

For decades now Utah legislators have repeatedly engaged in theater in their doomed bid to filter pornography from the internet. And repeatedly those lawmakers run face first into the technical impossibility of such a feat (it's trivial for anybody who wants porn to bypass filters), the problematic collateral damage that inevitably occurs when you try to censor such content (filters almost always wind up with legit content being banned), and a pesky little thing known as the First Amendment. But annoying things like technical specifics or the Constitution aren't going to thwart people who just know better.

For months now Utah has been contemplating yet another porn filtering law, this time HB 72. HB 72 pretends that it's going to purge the internet of its naughty bits by mandating active adult content filters on all smartphones and tablets sold in Utah. Phone makers would enable filters by default (purportedly because enabling such restrictions by choice is just to darn difficult), and require that mobile consumers in Utah enter a pass code before disabling the filters. If these filters aren't enabled by default, the bill would hold device manufacturers liable, up to $10 per individual violation.

On Tuesday, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed the bill into law, claiming its passage would send an “important message” about preventing children from accessing explicit online content:

"Rep. Susan Pulsipher, the bill’s sponsor, said she was “grateful” the governor signed the legislation, which she hopes will help parents keep their children from unintended exposure to pornography. She asserts that the measure passes constitutional muster because adults can deactivate the filters, but experts said it still raises several legal concerns."

The AP story takes the "view from nowhere" or "both sides" US journalism approach to the story, failing to note that it's effectively impossible to actually filter porn from the internet. Usually because the filters (be they adult controls on a device or DNS blocklists) can usually be disabled by a toddler with a modicum of technical aptitude. Or that filters almost always cause unintended collateral damage to legitimate websites.

The AP also kind of buries the fact that the bill is more about performative posturing than productive solutions. The law literally won't take effect unless five other states pass equal laws, something that's not going to happen in part because most states realize what a pointless, Sisyphean effort this is:

"Moreover, the rule includes a huge loophole: it doesn’t take effect until five other states pass equivalent laws. If none pass before 2031, the law will automatically sunset. And so far, Utah is the only place that’s even got one on the table. “We don’t know of any other states who are working on any plans right now,” says Electronic Frontier Foundation media relations director Rebecca Jeschke."

There's also, again, that whole First Amendment thing. There is apparently something in the water at the Utah legislature that makes state leaders incapable of learning from experience when it comes to technical specifics or protected speech:

Obviously, this will go about as well as all the previous efforts of this type, including the multi-state effort by the guy who tried to marry his computer to mandate porn filters in numerous states under the false guise of combatting "human trafficking." And it will fail because these are not serious people or serious bills; they're just folks engaged in performative nonsense for a select audience of the perpetually aggrieved. Folks who simply refuse to realize that the solution to this problem is better parenting and personal responsibility, not shitty, unworkable bills or, in this case, legislation that does nothing at all.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, constitution, moral panic, porn filters, spencer cox, utah


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 6:39am

    Pretty big self-own for a guy named Cox if you ask me.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 6:42am

    If that law ever does become effective...

    I know if a simple solution that will filter 100% of the porn. The first time the user attempts to access the Internet, they'll see a message along the lines of:

    Internet filtered to prevent viewing of porn. To enable access to the Internet, enter serial number of device.

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 6:49am

      Re: If that law ever does become effective...

      Of course, that will also filter 100% of the internet, but I guess that's the idea, innit?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 7:27am

      Re: If that law ever does become effective...

      To enable access to the Internet, enter serial number of device.

      More like "To enable access to porn enter your name onto the national public shaming of heathens list." Which is what these idiots want. A list of people they can demonize at anytime for just about any reason.

      Of course said demonization will also include other drawbacks as well.... (Denying social / carrer advancement, pre-crime targeting by "law enforcement", denial of child adoption and /or removal of their own children from their household, denial of government services, increased taxation, etc....)

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

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 8:20am

      Re: If that law ever does become effective...

      The serial number will be on a label, somewhere... be it under the back cover, or even under the battery, it's be somewhere. Or if one knows how to get into the phone's settings, it'll be part of the System details.

      A better idea would be to require the entry of the last 20 digits of Pi - that'll slow 'em down a tad!

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

    • identicon
      cpt kangarooski, 25 Mar 2021 @ 9:06am

      Re: If that law ever does become effective...

      Apparently it requires a code on power-on, and the bill is so broad that it would capture apps and phone sex over VOIP and such.

      I would just have the phone require an unlock everything code on power up to do literally anything. It complies with the law in the most technical, grudging way, but also makes a point.

      I don't have a problem with user-installed filters, provided that it's done in a way that the user is aware that their security may be compromised.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:27pm

        Re: Re: If that law ever does become effective...

        I would just have the phone require an unlock everything code on power up to do literally anything.

        The entire point of laws like these is to control the actions of others. A "unlock and do anything" code will never exist or be legal under such frameworks. (After all, the "literally do anything" bit would also mean allowing the user to permanently remove the restrictions from the device in a way the government / police / etc. couldn't reimplement easily. And they can't have that now can they?)

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

        • icon
          BernardoVerda (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:54pm

          Same as it ever was

          If I were to ever write a book on politics, I'd be strongly tempted to title it The Irony and the Hypocrisy

          A new nationwide study (pdf) of anonymised credit-card receipts from a major online adult entertainment provider finds little variation in consumption between states.

          “When it comes to adult entertainment, it seems people are more the same than different,” says Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business School.

          However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.

          “Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by,” Edelman says.

          https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16680-porn-in-the-usa-conservatives-are-biggest-consume rs/

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 3:11pm

            Re: Same as it ever was

            Of course the data shows that. After all, you can't be outraged about porn unless you're fully aware of all the porn that's out there. So they buy all they can so they know what they're protecting everyone else from.

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

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 6:54am

    "She asserts that the measure passes constitutional muster because adults can deactivate the filters"

    Or... help me out if I'm being crazy here... Adults can activate filters for their own damn kids and leave the rest of us out of it.

    "If these filters aren't enabled by default, the bill would hold device manufacturers liable, up to $10 per individual violation."

    I'm sure that all the device manufacturers actually headquartered in Utah will be quaking in their boots, while everyone else will be preparing for the uptick in sales from neighbouring states.

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

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 8:41am

      Re:

      everyone else will be preparing for the uptick in sales from neighbouring states.

      I'm betting that the $10 will simply be added to the retail price of all phones sold in Utah, meaning that not only can an adult deactivate the filter, he/she gets to pay for the privilege of doing so. Not a good business model, but it's probably cheaper than the phone companies getting together and suing the state. The one thing the Utah legislature knows is that being stupid is not a crime. Just imagine if it were......

      If I were a phone retail seller, I'd be setting up shop about 100 feet over the border line in every direction, and making it clear to all and sundry that "our phones are not filtered", or something similar. And I'd advertise in the Salt Lace City Tribune, until the legislature makes advertising such a crime in itself. But radio? TV? And Lowered know, that whole Internet thingie?? Yeah', this is gonna work out juuuust fiiiine.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 8:44am

      Re:

      Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Just one damn minute, Paul...

      You can't for one minute expect parents, those responsible for keeping their spawn safe, that they freely chose to have, to know how to activate a porn filter. I mean, that's complicated shit! You have to turn it on (or off), and frankly I think that's too much to ask of these poor poor marginally ignorant parents.

      They can be responsible for upbringing, basic needs such as food & clothing, driving them to school/soccer/football/baseball/tennis/midget-throwing/etc, keeping them safe while riding their bicycles, taking them to the hospital when warranted, discipline, and social development...but goddamnit! Activating a porn filter on a phone they purchased, and freely decided to hand to a child just crosses the line for me.

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 11:44pm

        Re: Re:

        Yeah, I know, what I'm saying sounds dangerously close to what some people would class as responsible behaviour, or even.. parenting! A shocking suggesting.

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

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 7:01am

    Performative Nonsense

    I mean, if a legislature is going to do performative nonsense, why not something cool, like declaring every day Christmas or something like that?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 7:38am

      Re: Performative Nonsense

      They would not do anything that leads to people enjoying themselves, as it goes against their principles or something.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 7:40am

    They just want a list of people who disable the filter.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 8:15am

    its pointless and it assumes adults do not know how to turn on a filter,
    if they have a child under 18,
    i think porn filters have a limited purpose in librarys or schools where teachers may not want under 18,s students acessing adult porn websites or extreme content on pcs installed in the school and owned by the school.
    even if 5 states passed this law people would buy phones online or from stores outside the states effected reducing income from sales tax.
    this is just performance politics .
    the chances of other states passing this law is zero ,
    so its effect is to just show how stupid utah politicans are .

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 8:35am

    Performative nonsense that doesn't do anything at all is do-somethingism at it best. Politicians get to say they've done something without concern for unforeseen consequences.

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

  • identicon
    Peter, 25 Mar 2021 @ 8:44am

    It's just software, right?

    "Code harder"

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 9:07am

    Pointless performance art...
    While covid was raging they spent time on passing a law they know will not stand & will self destruct if 5 other states aren't on board with violating the Constitution.

    "which she hopes will help parents keep their children from unintended exposure to pornography."

    Maybe just maybe, hear me out, you don't need to give your child a smartphone with unlimited internet access?
    Maybe just maybe you should pay attention to what your child is doing online?
    Maybe just maybe pretending the problem is pron existing is the cause of all of the ills in society is stupid.

    Smaller Government!!!
    Unless it involves boobs!!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 2:46pm

      Re:

      Does anyone have any good data on actual incidents of inadvertent exposure to pornographic/obscene/etc, material on mobile devices? This idea has always struck me as similar to 'poisoned Halloween candy': everyone talks about it, but no one can bring forward documented cases.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 4:12pm

        Re: Re:

        Given unless you're so prudish that any bare skin counts as porn you generally have to look for it(not that that's hard, just that it takes deliberate intent), I suspect a whole lot of the 'my poor innocent child accidentally found porn' comes from parents either in denial or wildly gullible who caught their kids watching porn and bought the 'I didn't mean to look at that mom/dad, I just accidentally stumbled upon it, honest!'

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 9:17am

    "Code harder"

    FTFY

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 10:22am

    For most of those Mormon kids, porn is the only sex education they will ever get.

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

  • icon
    Tim R (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 12:22pm

    I may be a non-lawyer and a non-constitutional scholar and not really grasping the intricacies of all this, but isn't forcing manufacturers to act as content editors violating the prohibition on government-compelled speech?

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 12:38pm

    Message sent and recieved

    Oh they've sent a message all right, specifically that during a pandemic that's killing people on a regular basis their focus is on unconstitutional garbage to make it look like they're Doing Something despite the fact that it'll never actually work, that they're fine wasting a bunch of taxpayer dollars in the legal fess that are sure to start stacking up and they're such gorram cowards that they can't tell parents that are freaking out over the possibility that little Timmy might see a bare breast that that's on the parents to deal with.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:33pm

      Re: Message sent and recieved

      They've never cared about the raging pandemic. That's something for commoners to die of and suffer under, not them.

      If there's ever been a reason to invoke the removal of officials from their offices, this was it. And as usual, the commoners don't care enough to even protect themselves from the obvious murderer standing in front of them ready to kill.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2021 @ 3:54pm

    I could see phone stores in West Wendover, Nevada getting a lot of business

    It is only 125 miles to there from Salt Lake, where most of the state's population lives.

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


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