Internet censorship laws in two U.S. states may be augmented, forcing Internet service providers and device manufacturers to implement technology that blocks obscene material from being viewed on Internet-connected devices.
North Dakota has recently joined South Carolina in proposing stricter Internet censorship laws to restrict state residents’ access to pornography. There is growing support for stricter Internet censorship laws in both states to block pornography and websites that promote prostitution, and it is believed that stricter Internet censorship laws will help reduce human trafficking in the states.
The new Internet censorship laws would not prevent state residents from accessing pornography on their laptops, computers and smartphones, as the technology would only be required on new devices sold in the two states. Any new device purchased would be required to have “digital blocking capability” to prevent obscene material from being accessed. Should the new Internet censorship laws be passed, state residents would be required to pay $20 to have the Internet filter removed.
The proposed law in North Dakota – Bill 1185 – classifies Internet Service Provider’s routers and all laptops, computers, smartphones, and gaming devices that connect to the Internet as “pornographic vending machines” and the proposed law change would treat those devices as such. The bill would also require device manufacturers to block ‘prostitution hubs’ and websites that facilitate human trafficking. If passed, the ban on the sale of non-filtered Internet devices would be effective from August 1, 2017.
Lifting of the block would only be possible if a request to remove the Internet filter was made in writing, the individual’s age was verified in a face to face encounter, and if a $20 fee was paid. Individual wishing to lift the block would also be required to receive a written warning about the dangers of removing the Internet filter.
The fees generated by the state would be directed to help offset the harmful social effects of obscene website content, such as funding the housing, legal and employment costs of victims of child exploitation and human trafficking. Fees would be collected at point of sale.
Device manufacturers would have a duty to maintain their Internet filter to ensure that it continues to remain fully functional, but also to implement policies and procedures to unblock non-obscene website content that has accidentally been blocked by filtering software. A system would also be required to allow requests to be made to block content that has somehow bypassed the Internet filtering controls. Requests submitted would need to be processed in a reasonable time frame. Failure to process the requests promptly would see the company liable to pay a $500 fine per website/webpage.
State Representative Bill Chumley (R‑Spartanburg) introduced similar updates in South Carolina last month, proposing changes to the state’s Human Trafficking Prevention Act. Both states will now subject the proposed bills to review by their respective House Judiciary Committees.