Several states in the United States are currently considering anti-pornography bills that could require phone and tablet manufacturers like Apple and Samsung to automatically enable filters that censor nude and sexually explicit content. The legislation would make these filters mandatory, with passcodes being the only way to disable them. Parents would be permitted to provide the passcode, but children would not be allowed to have them. The bills also state that filters must prevent children from downloading sexually explicit content via mobile data networks, applications controlled by manufacturers, and wired or wireless internet networks.
Several device manufacturers already have adult content filters available, but they are not typically turned on by default. Phone manufacturers allow parents to activate filters on web browsers that prevent children from accessing pornographic websites. In recent years, some phone makers have also created sophisticated filters that use artificial intelligence to censor individual images on specific applications.
One anti-pornography bill was passed in Utah in 2021, but it cannot be enacted until five other states pass similar legislation. Several states, including Florida, South Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee, Iowa, Idaho, Texas, and Montana, are currently reviewing versions of the bill. The original blueprint for the legislation was created by representatives from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and Protect Young Eyes, both organizations that focus on child safety. The authors said that the initial intention of the model bill was to compel device manufacturers to automatically enable adult filters for web browsers and not other applications. However, the legislation could also apply to more invasive device-level filters created in recent years.
Apple introduced filters in 2021 that can scan messages for nudity, blurring any suspected nude images for people who had the filters turned on. The filter can be enabled for children by an adult administrator and offers to connect users to parents or help resources. The majority of state bills under consideration would make device manufacturers liable for criminal and civil penalties if they do not have filters automatically enabled that meet “industry standards.” However, the bills do not specify what the industry standard is or if messaging filters are included.
According to Benjamin Bull, the general counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, the original model bill was designed to address the issue of child access to internet pornography narrowly in a way that avoided potential court challenges. NCOSE provided it to interested parties across the country, and it eventually found a home in Utah. Various interested parties have reached out to Bull and Protect Young Eyes since the bill’s passage in Utah, asking for help to bring the bill to their own states.