On pornography, known when it is seen

Utah’s governor has signed a porn filtering law saying that ISPs must block a list of pornographic sites on request. Looking briefly at the law, it states that the attorney general will determine what sites show content that is harmful to minors. The AG will then have those sites entered in a database. ISPs must then block or provide software that blocks these harmful sites on request. The bill makes content providers who traffic in content that might be harmful to minors criminally liable when minors gain access to that content if the content is not access restricted. “Access restricted” requires the rating of content plus the use of a credit card, “adult access code,” or “digital certificate verifying age.” (There was some language about “taking reasonable steps to ascertain” age, but that was struck out in favor of requiring the content provider to “determine” age.)
It also states that those who create or host content in Utah must rate their content.

There’s also some parts of the bill that I’m not clear on, expanding the (I assume current) Utah illegality of distributing pornographic material or inducing others to receive pornographic material.

-First, of course, there’s the ever nebulous “harmful to minors” standard. Noone agrees on what it is, and it varies by the minor. I guess it’s up to the attorney general. One size fits all.
-Blocking/filtering technologies (listed as software, DNS, IP blocking) always block more sites then they should. Previous laws similar to this one have resulted in the blocking of many non-“harmful” sites, and have therefore been found unconstitutional. I don’t see this law as terribly different. Sites beyond the database will be blocked.
-Certain provisions of the law appear to affect the world, not just Utah. Good luck with that.
-The ISP service is pretty much an unfunded mandate. The ISPs can recover costs up to the cost of the software or service they provide, and if they do so they have to raise every subscriber’s cost. There’s no mention of costs involved with implementing the system, keeping it up to date, working with the AG’s office, etc.
-Of course, there are ISPs that don’t charge and so can’t recover these costs. For one example, libraries.
-“Determine” age on the Internet? Please. None of their age verification techniques are infallible enough to limit the liability of the content providers.
-The CPs have to rate their own materials, and woe betide them if any authority disagrees with their assessments after the fact. They then face felony charges.
-The definision of CP is so vague that it could affect many types of Internet tools, including search engines. So now search engines must rate the content they link to or risk criminal charges.

1 Comment »

  1. Andrew M said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

    When Pornography is outlawed only Outlaws will have pornography.

    I agree with the need and necessity to stop access to material inappropriate to minors, but who is really responsible for ensuring this? The PARENTS. The parents need to be educated about what’s going on around the ‘net and install filtering software or restrict access for their kids.

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