A bill has been introduced to Florida’s state legislature that would require electronic devices to be manufactured with a government-mandated filter pre-installed. The bill was introduced on April 7th and, if passed into law, would take effect October 2017.
Forcing Businesses to Censor Online Content
The bill, titled the “Human Trafficking Prevention Act,” would prohibit all covered electronics manufacturers from producing, distributing, or selling certain devices without a filter present that blocks specific kinds of online content.
The filter would, according to the bill’s text, block specified types of sexually-oriented material such as prostitution, assignation, lewdness, and human trafficking. Additionally, if covered businesses are caught distributing devices that allow for such items, then they can be subject to a cease and desist order from the State of Florida.
The bill also requires businesses to respond to reports of “obscene material.” Failing to do so can also result in legal action being taken against a business operating in the state, initiated by either consumers or the Attorney General of Florida.
Moreover, selling any electronic device that can access the internet, without a filter, would become a felony if sold to a minor and a first-degree misdemeanor if sold to an adult under state law.
Protecting Consumers Via Censorship
The law was proposed by legislators for consumer safety reasons, specifically to curb human trafficking activities that occur online. The reasoning behind this is that obscene material can be easily distributed and retrieved on the internet, which increases demand for human trafficking, prostitution, child pornography, as well as cyberbullying.
Therefore, the legislators think that limiting this kind of consumer activity through technological mandates will decrease the demand for human trafficking, among other things, and help to prevent human trafficking in general.
In fact, the bill’s text goes as far as saying that internet-capable devices have become “pornography vending machines” in need of regulation.
The bill’s text reads:
“WHEREAS, the Legislature recognizes that devices that provide Internet access are effectively pornography vending machines in need of regulation, NOW.”
Florida Believes Their Bill Is Justified
The bill also justifies the law legally and constitutionally, citing the Supreme Court case Ashcroft v. ACLU, which dealt with a law regarding child pornography and upheld a federal law concerning Internet filtering as the least restrictive means of achieving the bill’s goals.
The legislators also compared their proposed mandate with one they felt was legally similar and could be justified on similar ground, called the pole tax. The tax was imposed on adult entertainment establishments and upheld by the Texas Supreme Court 60 in Combs v. Texas Entertainment Association, et al.
The bill provides consumers with recourse, however, as the bill does give them the option deactivate the filter. However, they must physically go to the manufacturer and request the deactivation. Additionally, they have to prove they are 18 years of age or older and are required to pay a deactivation fee of US $20.
What do you think of the proposed bill? Is it a justified response to human trafficking or is it government overreach? Let’s hear your thoughts.