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February 01, 2018

Virginia Aims to Block Porn From Any Internet Device

CYBERSPACE—Virginia, already one of four states to pass legislation declaring porn a “public health crisis,” may soon require that all internet-connected devices sold in the state come equipped with a “lock” that would automatically block all adult sites. That’s the idea behind legislation crafted by conservative Republican state legislator Dave LaRock—who in 2013 was arrested for tearing down a sign advertising an adult sex toy shop—and introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates on January 19. It is now being debated at the subcommittee level. Under the proposed law, which LaRock has packaged as legislation which would stop “human trafficking,” internet users who wish to unblock porn sites on their devices would be required to pay a fee of $20 that would supposedly go into a newly created Virginia Prevention of Human Trafficking Victim Fund. “Human trafficking and child exploitation, I think, are some of the darkest activities that take place in our society,” LaRock said in an interview with Virginia Public Radio. “This goes to one of the few places where you can limit the internet.” But free speech and civil liberties advocates say that the bill amounts to nothing more than an unconstitutional tax on content protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  “People have a First Amendment right to access this content, and publishers have a First Amendment right to provide it,” said David Horowitz, executive director of the First Amendment watchdog group the Media Coalition. “It’s awfully strange they would introduce a bill to charge the citizens of Virginia for access to pornography,” National Coalition Against Censorship Director Chris Finan added. “It’s unusual and does not sound feasible. It would end up blocking material that is protected by the First Amendment.” And opponents of the bill in the Virginia legislature say that the state government simply has no business regulating the legal content that Virginians may access online. “If there’s criminal activity happening on a web page and it needs to be shut down, that’s a case-by-case basis for prosecutors and investigators to make,” said Democratic state legislator Marcus Simon. “It’s not something that we at the legislative level ought to be making value judgments about.” Other critics note that the bill—House Bill 1592, which may be read in its entirety at this link—puts the state itself into the porn business. “After all, if it is collecting taxes and tolls for the service of porn, in some way it is itself monetizing that porn,” write the online tech site TechDirt.  The bill also fails to specify how the money collected by the state from internet users who want their devices unblocked would actually be used to fight human trafficking, nor does it spell out how legal, online porn allegedly promotes human trafficking, a claim that researchers have found little if any hard evidence to support.

 
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