A proposed bill requiring filters on children’s devices is moving forward from its Senate committee.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, introduced SB104, also known as the Children’s Device Protection Act. This act would require smartphones or tablets to automatically enable a filter on minor’s devices to prevent children from seeing explicit material.

The bill had previously been heard in a committee meeting, but did not advance.

On Wednesday, the committee reconsidered the legislation after an amendment was adopted. Weiler described the amendment as technical. It’s worth noting that a similar bill was passed before in 2021. Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, and Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, passed HB72 which was set to require “a tablet or a smartphone (a device) sold in the state ... to, when activated in the state, automatically enable a filter capable of blocking material that is harmful to minors.” 

However, this bill was set to go into effect after at least five states also passed similar legislation. Weiler previously said this was done so “Utah wasn’t an outlier.”

“Well, in the years between, since then, we’ve made ourselves an outlier when it comes to social media and porn websites,” Weiler said during the last committee meeting.

As part of Weiler’s presentation of the bill, Chris McKenna from Protect Young Eyes came to speak in support of the bill.

“I’ve talked to many tech experts about this legislation, and they all tell me the same thing: that there are difficult things to do with the devices that we’re talking about, smartphones and tablets, and this is not one of those things,” McKenna said. The bill would give parents, guardians and adult users the option to disable through a password.

“We don’t buy cars with seatbelts hidden in a box in the trunk and likewise, SB104 pulls that out so that it’s obvious during the activation sequence,” McKenna said. “It’s responsible, careful, technically simple.” He explained that this filter “might prevent an early accidental exposure to potentially life-altering explicit content.”

Melissa McKay, a mother of five children who lives in Pleasant Grove, also spoke as part of Weiler’s presentation. Phones already require phone users to enter birthdates as part of their Apple or Google ID, McKay explained. “It’s in the first five steps or so. If the user is identified as a child under 18 per the stated age, this bill mandates that the device automatically enable a preexisting filter. This filter restricts the child’s access to pornographic content.”

Without this filter, McKay said, “children are almost certain to encounter pornographic content on their smartphones.”

Utah County resident Katheryn Snyder, the development and fundraising manager for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, referenced a national hearing that took place Wednesday when she spoke in support of the bill. “A hearing was held in Washington, D.C., of five social media platform CEOs and it was apparent that they just continually make excuses with no change,” Snyder said.

“I am a grandmother and a mother, and please just do not let any harm come to any more Utah children,” Snyder said.

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Caden Rosenbaum, senior policy analyst for Libertas Institute, said, “Our problem with this bill is that it would require someone to offer up an ID just to use a cellphone.”

“While we’re all fine with getting the parental controls to be more clear, having a pop-up, we think that putting an opt out only is a restriction on people’s speech,” Rosenbaum explained.

This Utah lawmaker passed the porn age verification law. Now he’s taking on smartphone filters for obscene material

General counsel for the National Center, Benjamin Bull, said, “I’ve been practicing constitutional law for over 45 years. I don’t know if you can tell it, but I’m a senior citizen. And this bill has been vetted by dozens of constitutional litigators and law professors. It will pass constitutional muster.”

“It was written specifically in the direction of the Supreme Court in a case called Ashcroft v. ACLU, which struck down restrictions at the platform level, but upheld restrictions,” Bull said. “At the user level, they see filters as less restrictive because they impose selective restrictions on speech at the receiving end, not universal restrictions at the source and do not require credit cards or IDs to be uploaded to the internet.”

Patrick Hedger, executive director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, said while he applauds the effort, he is concerned about the approach. He described it as running “afoul of the Constitution, despite what you just heard.”

After public comment closed, the bill was favorably recommended from the committee.