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Utah lawmaker plans porn blocking legislation for cellphones, libraries

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Following Utah's resolution declaring pornography a "public health crisis," a lawmaker is drafting bills to mandate anti-porn filters on cellphones and computers at public libraries.

In an interview with FOX 13, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he is drafting legislation that would require cellphone makers to install porn-blocking filters on their devices, which would be removed if it's verified the owner is over 18.

"Almost every kid in Utah is walking around with a smart phone, which is basically a vending machine for porn in a lot of respects," Sen. Weiler said.

Sen. Weiler called it "backwards" that parents have to purchase and install filtering software on a child's phone, when manufacturers could make it a feature of the device. He said he anticipated pushback from cellphone operating system makers like Apple or Android.

The senator is also drafting legislation that would require public libraries to install porn-blocking filters on computers to prevent minors from accessing adult-oriented sites on the internet.

"If libraries were handing out tobacco to kids, we'd all be up in arms," Sen. Weiler said. "And yet, in some instances they are purveyors of pornography. It's not appropriate."

The Utah Library Association expressed concerns about the proposed legislation. Dustin Fife, the president of the ULA, said most libraries have some form of filtering in place to qualify for state and federal funding and said Sen. Weiler's bill would be redundant.

Fife said the ULA had concerns that filtering would block legal and useful materials protected by the First Amendment that some consider "objectionable." He said libraries "are places of inclusion, rather than exclusion."

"Parents ultimately need to control their children. It is inappropriate for the state or the library to interfere on this matter. What is appropriate for my child might not be appropriate for Senator Weiler’s child, and vice versa. We endanger the importance of parenting and the First Amendment if we continually build laws that intrude because laws rarely provide for nuance. Laws create hammers instead of paint brushes," he said in an email to FOX 13.

"Libraries have a great duty to support their communities and to promote a diversity of thought, information, and dialogue. Be wary of any law that limits that traditional role. When it comes to the rights of parents and the First Amendment, only incredibly finite and thoughtful laws should be passed in order to avoid chilling intellectual freedom and promoting censorship."

Earlier this year, Sen. Weiler sponsored the non-binding resolution that declared pornography a "public health crisis." The resolution, a first of its kind in the nation, generated international headlines and some criticism. But Governor Gary Herbert staged a ceremonial signing for the bill in a room packed with supporters.

The Free Speech Coalition, a group representing the adult entertainment industry, said it also had concerns about the proposed legislation.

"While no one wants children accessing adult material, these type of decisions need to be made by families and individuals, not the government. The fact of the matter is that filters like these cast a wide net, and end up blocking tons of non-adult material, such as LGBT news sites and information about sexual health and teen pregnancy," the group said in a statement.

Sen. Weiler insisted he was not infringing upon adults' rights to view pornographic materials, but said his legislation is aimed at protecting minors.

"Everything I am doing and everything I am trying to do is about protecting children," he told FOX 13. "If adults want to look at pornography, that's their constitutional right."

 

Read the full statement from the Utah Library Association here:

  • Publicly supported libraries are governmental institutions subject to the First Amendment, which forbids them from restricting information based on viewpoint or content discrimination.
  • Libraries are places of inclusion rather than exclusion. Current blocking/filtering software not only prevents access to what some may consider “objectionable” material, but also blocks information protected by the First Amendment. The result is that legal and useful material will inevitably be blocked.
  • Filters can impose the producer’s viewpoint on the community.
  • Producers do not generally reveal what is being blocked, or provide methods for users to reach sites that were inadvertently blocked.
  • Criteria used to block content are vaguely defined and subjectively applied.
  • The vast majority of Internet sites are informative and useful. Blocking/filtering software often blocks access to materials it is not designed to block.
  • Most blocking/filtering software was designed for the home market and was intended to respond to the preferences of parents making decisions for their children. As these products have moved into the library market, they have created a dissonance with the basic mission of libraries. Libraries are responsible for serving a broad and diverse community with different preferences and views. Blocking Internet sites is antithetical to library missions because it requires the library to limit information access.
  • Filtering all Internet access is a one-size-fits-all “solution,” which cannot adapt to the varying ages and maturity levels of individual users.
  • A role of librarians is to advise and assist users in selecting information resources. Parents and only parents have the right and responsibility to restrict their own children’s access—and only their own children’s access—to library resources, including the Internet. Librarians do not serve in loco parentis.
  • Library use of blocking/filtering software creates an implied contract with parents that their children will not be able to access material on the Internet that they do not wish their children to read or view. Libraries will be unable to fulfill this implied contract, due to the technological limitations of the software.
  • Laws prohibiting the production or distribution of child pornography and obscenity apply to the Internet. These laws provide protection for libraries and their users.

At the same time, while objecting to the principles of filtering, most libraries have some form of filtering in place already in order to be eligible for both state and federal funding. Senator Weiler’s bill would be redundant, as public libraries usually filter in order to be eligible for state CLEF funding and federal LSTA funding.

Also, simple web searches will pull up news stories about how filters have been used to inappropriately block materials from students and minors based upon the political beliefs of administrators or IT professionals. Some of these stories are more reputable than others. When it comes to turning on filters, it is easy to check boxes or list keywords that you personally find objectionable, but that ultimately limit the First Amendment rights of even minors.

Parents ultimately need to control their children. It is inappropriate for the state or the library to interfere on this matter. What is appropriate for my child might not be appropriate for Senator Weiler’s child, and vice versa. We endanger the importance of parenting and the First Amendment if we continually build laws that intrude because laws rarely provide for nuance. Laws create hammers instead of paint brushes.

Libraries have a great duty to support their communities and to promote a diversity of thought, information, and dialogue. Be wary of any law that limits that traditional role. When it comes to the rights of parents and the First Amendment, only incredibly finite and thoughtful laws should be passed in order to avoid chilling intellectual freedom and promoting censorship.