The Utah state Legislature passed a bill on Thursday that seeks to protect children from harmful online content by requiring cellphones to have pornography blockers.
The bill would require cellphones and tablets to be sold with pornography filters already activated at the time of purchase.
Sponsored by Republican Utah state Rep. Susan Pulsipher, the bill specifically aims to block “material that is harmful to minors.”
The bill has been approved by both chambers of the Legislature. It now heads to the governor’s desk.
The bill’s supporters admitted that the legislation is not perfect, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, but noted that the state will have time to refine the bill since five other states must pass similar measures before Utah’s can go into effect.
“It gives us years, most likely, to iron out all of the problems, if there are problems,” Republican Utah state Sen. Todd Weiler said Thursday. “But it does send a strong message.”
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert declared pornography a public health crisis in Utah in April 2016, and the state passed a bill in 2020 requiring porn to come with a warning label.
“This isn’t just a religious moral issue,” Weiler said when the state declared porn a public health crisis. “Some people want to make this about sex education; no boy or girl needs to see those images to learn how families are created.”
Pulsipher, the bill’s sponsor, has said it is intended to help parents who are not technologically savvy protect their children from explicit content online.
Republican state Sen. Jake Anderegg said he had a “lot of trepidation” about the bill but ultimately voted for it.
“As much as the intentions of this bill are good, logistically it just won’t work,” Anderegg said.
Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe said the bill may encounter constitutional issues due to vague wording and the potential that it will impose an undue burden on interstate commerce.
“You can have an old, dumb phone” without the software to turn on pornography filters, she said.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation president Dawn Hawkins praised Utah’s efforts in a Friday statement.
“Utah has passed a critical, common sense solution to help protect vulnerable children from accessing harmful pornographic content on phones and tablets,” Hawkins said.
“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.
“We commend the Utah legislature for passing this bill that will aid parents in protecting their children from unwanted exposure to pornography,” Hawkins added.
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