Utah Lawmakers Pass Bill to Require ‘Porn Filters’ on All Tablets and Phones Sold in the State

Utah Lawmakers Pass Bill to Require ‘Porn Filters’ on All Tablets and Phones Sold in the State
Photo: Gabriel Bouys, Getty Images
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Pour one out for all the horny folks in Utah, y’all. The state’s legislature has passed its baffling “porn filter” bill, which would mandate a default filter for “material that is harmful to minors” on all tablets and smartphones sold in the state beginning in 2022.

House Bill 72 — its official title — passed the state Senate this week in a 19-6 vote with four absences, as first spotted by XBIZ. In February, the Utah House of Representatives sanctioned the bill after it narrowly scraped through a committee vote with a 6-5 margin. Now it’s headed to the desk of Utah Governor Spencer Cox for final approval.

Under this legislation, tech manufacturers would be forced to enable default filters on their products sold in the state that “prevent the user of the device from accessing material that is harmful to minors” until the user chooses to deactivate it. Rep. Susan Pulsipher, a Republican with an education background and zero technology experience, introduced the bill in December, and it’s been significantly watered down since then, if you can believe it. The original version called for penalties of up to $US2,500 ($3,263) for each violation, which have since dropped to just $US10 ($13) (with a $US500 ($653) cap) after pushback from other House members and free speech activists. The bill’s current version also contains a very important stipulation: It will only become law in Utah after at least five other states adopt similar measures.

Lawmakers in the predominantly Mormon state have headed an anti-porn crusade in recent years, declaring porn a “public health crisis” in 2016 and pushing for internet service providers to roll out similar filters to those approved with HB 72. Last year, legislators passed a law without the governor’s approval that forces adult websites to put up warning labels regarding the “obscene” nature of their content.

Given the ubiquitousness of porn on the internet, I’m not entirely sure how Utah lawmakers expect to win this fight. Even with all this bureaucratic pearl-clutching, the state ranked 34th in the U.S. traffic for Pornhub traffic in 2016. But while legislators’ overly high-minded efforts to censor all NSFW content online may sound ridiculous, these uber-conservative laws could pose some serious headaches for both consumers and tech giants. Experts say international manufacturers could face civil liability if they fail to comply with Utah’s ordinances, per XBIZ. And free speech advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, have called attention to what they argue are glaring First Amendment violations and constitutional overreaches these faith-based regulatory measures entail.