comScore

Bill Would Require Automatic Blocking of Child Pornography—and Legal Porn, Too

A Georgia lawmaker wants electronic products with online access to come with a new feature: automatic, state-mandated blocking of obscene material. The text of HB 509, from Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs), states it’s about protecting the vulnerable. That much is clear from the title: It’s called the Human Trafficking Prevention Act. And it also may cover material that’s legal in other contexts. The legislation covers pornography involving minors, revenge porn, and websites involved in prostitution and human trafficking. But it also enables the so-called digital blocking capability to “block access to obscene material.” This includes regular porn.

Georgia follows the test established by Miller v. California (1973) in defining “obscene” material. First off, it has to appeal to a prurient interest in sex and the like, and must lack serious value in terms of art, science, etc. It must also meet a third criteria, which varies from case to case. Perhaps the product features bestiality. Or it might just feature S&M, or regular ol’ conventional sexual intercourse.

Courts in general have a hard time pinning down what’s specifically prurient and what’s protected speech. You might have heard Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 quote on porn: “I know it when I see it.”

We reached out to Rep. Rakestraw for clarification about the bill’s specific goals. And she says yes, the law does cover regular legal porn, and it would affect adult consumers, not just young viewers. The idea is to take the logic of a “brick and mortar” shop–where pornography is hidden by the counter–and apply it to the Internet.

Rakestraw also argues that while parents can already set up filters to prevent their children from seeing Internet porn, she says that places an undue burden on them because they have to update the programs every time a new computer operating system becomes available. For her, the burden has to be on porn consumers. She also voiced concern about the role the Internet may play in certain crimes.

“Georgia is the capital of the world in human trafficking because of our airport,” she said. And indeed, the Department of Justice has scrutinized Atlanta as a hub for that crime.

In any case, she argues the 2004 case Ashcroft v. ACLU establishes a precedent for blocking and filtering as constitutionally acceptable.

If HB 509 is passed, people can opt out of the blocking feature, but they have to pay a $20 fee on a product-by-product basis. Consumers must ask the retailer to do it, and acknowledge “a written warning regarding the potential danger of deactivating the digital blocking capability.” Payments would support a trust fund for mental health, and addiction treatment. This fund would be established by a state constitutional amendment.

That fee has been criticized. Here’s local Georgia columnist Jessica Szilagyi in a March 8 opinion piece:

If, as a reasonable, responsible, American adult, you wish to look at obscene material in the privacy of your own home, you have to tell the grandmother at the Wal-Mart check out line that you would like her to delete the program so you can enjoy the device to the fullest extent.

Via the Children’s Internet Protection Act, federal law already requires schools getting federal funding to stop minors from accessing obscene material, child porn or not.

[Image via Kaspars Grinvalds and Shutterstock]

  1. Mediaite
  2. The Mary Sue
  3. RunwayRiot
  4. LawNewz
  5. Gossip Cop