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Utah Senate Committee OKs Bill That Requires Content Filters For Tablets And Smartphones

An illustration of electronic devices with blank screens.
Utah lawmakers are considering a bill to make it easier for parents to block explicit content on their children’s devices.

The Utah Legislature is advancing a bill that would require tablets and smartphones sold in the state to come with an existing content filter turned on.

The filter would block sexual content and could be turned off using a passcode. The idea is to make it easier for parents to keep their children away from explicit content.

“What good is it to include filters on devices if activating them is so complicated that parents have to use expert help in order to utilize the protections they provide?” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan. “This bill is just trying to help good parents be good parents.”

It would only take effect if five other states enact similar laws. She said that provision was added to make sure the law didn’t put too much of a burden on manufacturers to change devices just for Utah. So far, no states have passed similar laws, according to Pulsipher. If a manufacturer violates the law, they can be sued and charged $10 per violation, up to a maximum of $500 total.

Critics of the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, argued it’s too restrictive, and therefore is unconstitutional.

“Time and time again, the [U.S.] Supreme Court has reminded the government that it can restrict speech based on content as long as it uses the least restrictive means among available and effective options,” said Jason Groth, an attorney with the ACLU of Utah. “The affirmative step of parents turning filters on for a mobile device … would be less restrictive than this bill.”

A Senate committee passed the legislation 5-2 Tuesday evening, sending it to the full chamber. The bill has already passed the House.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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