While America is often portrayed as a hive of liberal debauchery, with a media environment heavy on skin and short on substance, unmentioned is a prudish strain that runs just as deep and as afoul of the mainstream. This hidden brand of puritanism rears its head in many ways, one of which is the unfortunate call to have technology companies block access to perfectly legal content in the name of protecting the gentle minds of the citizenry. Utah has attempted this in the form of calls to have phones come stock with filters to block pornography, full stop. And, while Utah is by no means alone in America in this endeavor, this sort of unconstitutional grab at the minds of the people is most often attempted in the more conservative, and religious, states. This, of course, despite all of the collateral damage to educational and otherwise useful material that comes along with this sort of thing.
Yet the march against skin marches on. In Georgia, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would mandate filters on mobile devices that allow internet access.
State representative Paulette Rakestraw has filed House Bill 509 which would require retailers to put a “digital blocking capability” on some devices to make “obscene material” inaccessible. Retailers, in this code section, would mean anyone who SELLS or LEASES a device that allows content to be accessed on the Internet. The “blocking capability” is required to make porn, child porn, revenge porn, websites about prostitution, and websites about sex trafficking all inaccessible. Retailers would be required to have a telephone line where consumers could call to report complaints and it prohibits retailers from giving consumers intel on how to deactivate the blocking program themselves.
There's a lot to say about why this sort of thing is dumb, so let's just rapid fire them off. First, the inclusion of porn generally, as opposed to the requirement to block the more illicit content discussed above, renders this unconstitutional, as I mentioned above. That pesky First Amendment tends to stand in the way of government attempts to prohibit otherwise perfectly legal content and speech, of which pornography is generally included. The rather cynical way this general block on pornography is wrapped in the cloak of attempts to block the familiar enemies, like child porn and trafficking sites, adds to how slimy this all is. And this final sentence of the paragraph is where I would typically mention how easily circumvented these types of filters tend to be, except one of the proposed law's other provisions appears to try to tackle that in a way that requires further discussion.
Here is the real humdinger: If you are 18 years of age or older, request in writing that you would like to deactivate the program, acknowledge in writing that you understand the dangers (yes, that is really the word they use) of deactivating the program, and pay a $20 fee, you can have the program removed from your device.
You read that correctly. If, as a reasonable, responsible, American adult, you wish to look at obscene material in the privacy of your own home, you have to tell the grandmother at the Wal-Mart check out line that you would like her to delete the program so you can enjoy the device to the fullest extent.
This puts the government in Georgia in the uncomfortable position of not only attempting to enact an unconstitutional law, but it also requires them to be grifters off of those that would enjoy the same material it seeks to block. Making $20 from adults who want to circumvent the filter required by the law means the state of Georgia stands to profit financially from its citizens' masturbation habits. And, while that's plainly just gross, it's the attempt to keep the public from knowing how to circumvent the filter themselves that makes this all look like a self-pleasure-tax than anything resembling an attempt to block illicit material. After all, how needed is a filter to block obscene material if the government is willing to allow it not to be blocked for the cost of a pizza?
Where the censorship of legitimate and legal speech is pretty plainly unconstitutional, specifically taxing a form of speech is painfully so.
Porn is free speech. This is a tax on free speech. A tax on people who wish to exercise and enjoy free speech. Here’s another thing: By taxing porn, the government is condoning the industry, “allowing” it to exist, if you will. If the risks are SO high for sex trafficking and child pornography, then all porn should be illegal.
The fact that there is no advocacy for eradication of porn just reiterates the point: This isn’t about protecting anyone or helping anyone. It’s about taxing a vulnerable industry that is considered immoral. There is less resistance. After all, who is going to speak out in favor of porn?
Well, I will, for starters. And I will do so unashamedly. Pornography itself has all kinds of useful and healthy applications, all of which have been documented scientifically. This isn't to say there are no downsides, or potential downsides, but there is a healthy application for pornography and the activities that tend to go with it. On top of that, giving government the power to block that which is deemed to be "obscene" or "pornographic" is rife with problems that far outweigh any potential benefits in censoring it. The public is not served living at the pleasure of a government that can decide what is good for it. And taxing it, not out of existence, but into legitimacy, is as crass and cynical a thing a local government can do.
Which is likely all besides the point. This, again, is unconstitutional, which should be the end of the discussion.