Bridges too far? State lawmakers propose laws to limit access to porn

Bridges too far? State lawmakers propose laws to limit access to porn
Screen grab from porno made by coed Kendra Jane Sunderland

How big a problem is pornography in the U.S.? It depends on who you ask. If you ask Todd Weiler, a state senator from Utah, he will tell you that it is a “public health crisis,” which he hopes to mitigate through a law he has proposed that would allow people to sue companies that place porn on the internet. Across the country, lawmakers in South Carolina have filed a bill that would require computer manufacturers or retailers to install software on any device with internet access that renders obscenity inaccessible.

Weiler, sponsor of the bill that would allow litigation against “smut peddlers,” told Salt Lake City station KSL:

I’m trying to kind of track the same path that was taken against tobacco 70 years ago. It’s not government coming in and saying what you can and can’t watch. It’s just basically a message to the pornography industry that if someone in Utah can prove damages from the product, that they may be held liable financially.

I’m concerned that the average age of first exposure to hardcore sex videos on the Internet is now the age of 11.

The Palmetto State measure, introduced by state Reps. Bill Chumley and Mike Burns, seeks to ensure that there are “minimum requirements” for the blocking software, as well as a “procedure” for consenting users to disable the software. But failure to receive the software at the time of purchase could result in criminal penalties.

Ham-handed measures to limit access to porn, which in cases is considered protected speech under current federal obscenity laws, are in part reaction to a relaxation of standards on college campuses. Last year, for example, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh added to its curriculum a course challenging students to invent a new porn genre. Back in 2013, Pasadena City College initiated a course with the stated goal of normalizing pornography.

Annual “sex weeks” have also become commonplace fixtures on many campuses, including Utah University, in Todd Weiler’s state.

Some legitimate concerns have been raised about these laws, which advocate “porn control.” Chris Howard, a computer retailer in South Carolina, noted that the mandate to add pornography-blocking software — an expense incurred by the vendor — is reminiscent of Obamacare.

The bigger concern of course is how much Americans need and want government making decisions for them about what is good and what is bad and what they can and can’t do.

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles is a freelance writer.

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