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Virginian legislators propose removable porn filter on all new devices

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A US state representative has introduced a bill in the Virginian state legislature which proposes charging customers a $20 fee in order to lift an online pornography filter from their phones, tablets and PCs. The aim of the bill is ostensibly to reduce human trafficking and pornography consumption.

According to House Bill 1592, named the “Human Trafficking Prevention Act”, this would require sellers of phones, tablets and PCs to place a filter which “renders obscenity inaccessible” on all new devices.

Buyers may choose to lift this filter by paying a $20 (£14) “digital access fee” when they buy their device. They must acknowledge in writing that they accept the “potential danger” of removing the filter and must provide photo ID proving that they are of age.

The bill was introduced by Dave La Rock, a Republican state representative, known for his highly socially conservative views. He has consistently opposed the right of women to abortions and condemned a proposal to recognise an LGBT+ event in Virginia for promoting “homosexuality and gender confusion” among young people.

House Bill 1592 states that “studies have shown that pornography is a public health hazard, leading to a broad spectrum of well-documented individual impacts and societal harms”.

Last year, a number of Virginian legislators pushed for a resolution which stated that pornography leads to “individual and societal harms”, arguing that it increases demand for sex trafficking, among other consequences.

Supporters of the bill argue that it could raise funds to support human trafficking victims. However, it remains unclear how such a pornography filter could be applied to all new devices. Its opponents – including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union – argue that it violates the First Amendment by effectively placing a tax on media content, limiting freedom of the press.

The bill is now being considered by a subcommittee of the Virginian legislature.

It is very similar to another “Human Trafficking Prevention Act” introduced to the South Carolina legislature, which also proposes charging a $20 access fee to residents wanting to buy a device without an online pornography filter.

“The money collected from the fines and fees would go to the [South Carolina] Attorney General’s Office’s human trafficking task force, which works with law enforcement leaders, non-profits and state advocates to find solutions to trafficking,” said Republican state representative Bill Chumley, who proposed the legislation in South Carolina.

These pieces of legislation have been named after the federal Human Trafficking Prevention Act, which was introduced to the US House of Representatives in 2014. This act requires federal government personnel to engage in regular training and briefings to raise awareness, such that they can help their colleagues recognise incidents in their work.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the Digital Economy Act 2017, which comes into force in April 2018, will require internet users to verify that they are at least 18 years old in order to access pornography online.

Users have expressed concern that this could result in personal information, such as names, addresses and date of birth being collected by pornography companies. MindGeek, the world’s largest pornography company, has assured users that it will not snoop on the preferences of its UK users when its AgeID verification system is launched later this year.

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