clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Utah lawmakers give porn filtering proposal the boot at interim hearing

Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, listens to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talk about anti-vaping efforts during a roundtable discussion at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.
Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, listens to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talk about anti-vaping efforts during a roundtable discussion at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Should sellers of smartphones and computers be required to install software to block access to legal but explicit internet content and have those programs switched on when the devices are sold to Utah customers?

A proposal from Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, looking to do just that ran into a buzz saw of dissent at an interim committee hearing Tuesday, and the idea was bounced without a vote.

Pulsipher said the goal of her effort was to create another wall of defense to help protect children from “the damaging impact of pornography” and “empower parents and legal guardians to limit a minor’s exposure to such online harmful material.”

In a presentation to the Business and Labor Interim Committee, Pulsipher said the “government has a compelling interest in protecting minors from harmful sexually explicit material generally referred to as pornography” and that the U.S. Supreme Court has “held that sexually explicit material deemed ‘harmful to minors’ can be proscribed for minors so long as adults retain reasonable access to such material.”

Pulsipher said she believes that compelling manufacturers and distributors of internet-connected electronic devices to build in and switch on content filters was a better method of protecting minors than “other legislative efforts.”

But committee members balked at Pulsipher’s approach, noting that it would be extremely difficult to identify which entity in the consumer electronics supply chain should be held liable for ensuring that software was activated.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, pointed out that Pulsipher’s proposal failed to identify whether the responsible party was the manufacturer, the company that distributed the product, or the store or reseller that sold the product to the consumer, an issue Pulsipher recognized needed to be clarified in the draft language.

And, some lawmakers questioned who is best suited to take responsibility for determining what, if any, content filtering should be engaged on personal devices.

Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, noted that internet content filtering required by statute of Utah schools and libraries is accomplished by the institutions themselves ensuring that filtering software is installed and activated, a system he believes should also apply to individuals.

“In that line of thinking ... the parents at home would be the place those filters are appropriately implemented,” Maloy said. “I am also concerned about the constitutionality of this ... trying to have the manufacturer do something that is really not necessarily their responsibility.”

Pulsipher said she appreciated the opportunity to field the concerns of committee members and promised to work on revising the bill in time for further consideration in the next interim session.

But Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, said he was unlikely to end up a supporter of the effort, regardless of what changes Pulsipher came back with.

“I’m probably going to be a no on this bill no matter what happens,” Hemmert said. “I think the market is already attempting to provide these (content filtering) solutions. Maybe it’s just bad timing, but I’ve had enough nanny state in my life this past year and I don’t need more, and we already have restrictions, limitations on the distribution of pornography.”