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Thursday, 28 February 2008 07:19

Utah legislature proposes rewarding ISPs for blocking porn

Written by David Stellmack

Image

Can display seal of “Community Consciousness”


The state of Utah House of Representatives has introduced legislation that would reward Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who block access to pornographic materials on their sites to be awarded a special designation, and to display an official seal on their Web sites and in their promotional materials.  Known as House Bill 407, the bill would create a designation for such ISPs to be named as a “Community Conscious Internet Provider (CCIP).”

In order to receive the CCIP status, ISPs must file with the Utah Attorney General’s office and certify on a form that they will keep their customers from publishing pornographic material on their sites.  The ISPs must also agree to remove pornography that does get past their filters, as well as remove any content deemed harmful to minors, while also prevent other users from accessing that material.  The bill goes even further to apply restrictions on all content either published on Web sites hosted by an ISP or accessed via its services. And ISPs seeking the CCIP designation will be required to keep track of all IP addresses issued to customers for a minimum of two years after their initial allocation.

This is content on the World Wide Web that they are trying to regulate.  How does an ISP regulate access to content except by blocking access to huge numbers of Web sites? And how are the content filters to be applied? This is where things get dicey.  To define content that could be considered harmful to minors, H.B. 407 references language in an existing Utah law that describes such harmful material as “anything containing nudity or depicting sexual conduct that ‘when taken as a whole, appeals to a prurient interest’ among minors.”  Does this mean that Victoria’s Secret ads on the Web will be banned?  That certainly appeals to a prurient interest among male minors.  What about National Geographic images on the Web?  Semi nude humans could be considered as raising a prurient interest.  And what about medical and science sites on the Web:  do photos of human anatomy constitute nudity that is objectionable?

H.B. 407 was introduced by a Republican State Representative named Michael Morley, and this is the State of Utah, which is very religiously conservative.  But this legislation seems ill conceived and rife with ambiguity, not to mention nearly impossible to enforce.  If this legislation is enacted It seems that Utah is almost begging for civil actions to be brought against it for violating freedom of speech, freedom of access to information, freedom of expression, as well as the right to privacy, all guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  This will be particularly true if there is a limited choice in ISPs that are available to users.

We’ll keep an eye on this legislation and let you know what happens.

Last modified on Thursday, 28 February 2008 21:56

David Stellmack

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