Lawmakers are considering a new bill that calls for mandatory web content filtering in Rhode Island. More than a dozen U.S states are considering similar laws which make it necessary for the manufacturers or distributors of Internet enabled devices to use web filters to block access to adult content by default.
In other states the bill goes under the banner of the Human Trafficking Prevention Act. The aim of the legislation is to reduce the availability of online pornography, which is often claimed to represent ‘a public health crisis’ in the United States.
The purpose of the bill – sponsored by Senators Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) and Hannah Gallo (D-Cranston) – is not to make it illegal to view online pornography but to make state residents pay a fee if they want to view such material on their laptops, computers, and smartphones.
Bill Proposes Web Filtering in Rhode Island on All Internet-Enabled Devices
As in other states, the wording of the legislation means that web filtering in Rhode Island would be mandatory on all Internet-enabled devices, not only smartphones, laptops and desktops. This would require web filtering controls to also cover IoT devices and routers, which would be applied at the ISP level.
If the bill is passed, web filtering in Rhode Island would cover online pornography and any shows, motion pictures, performances, or images that “taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” The web filter would also need to block access to websites or hubs that facilitates human trafficking and prostitution and ensure child pornography and revenge porn cannot be accessed.
The move would certainly make it harder for minors to access adult content since in order to remove the filtering controls the device owner would be required to prove they are over 18 years of age. Any device sold in the state would need to be supplied with a warning about the removal of the filtering mechanism and the repercussions of doing so.
Any individual who wishes to remove the filtering would be allowed to do so by paying a one-off fee of $20. The fee would be added to a fund that supports the victims of human trafficking.
Any such technological control is unlikely to be 100% accurate, so a mechanism must be introduced that ensures requests can be submitted to add websites and webpages to the filter when obscene content has escaped the filtering controls. Conversely, when content is blocked that is not sexual in nature or is not patently offensive, a request can be submitted to add the page to a whitelist of allowable websites or have the site recategorized. Such requests would need to be processed no later than 5 days after the request has been submitted.
The failure to act on such requests would be punishable with a financial penalty of up to $500 per piece of content that was reported but not blocked. In its current form the bill does not call for similar fines to be imposed when requests are submitted to unblock legitimate content that has been inadvertently blocked by the filtering controls.