The Utah State Legislature passed a bill that requires tablets and smartphones sold in the state to automatically enable a filter to block “material that is harmful to minors.” House Bill 72, which had already been passed by the House, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 19 to 6, with 4 senators absent or not voting.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that even supporters of HB 72 acknowledged that the bill is far from perfect. For example, other states will have to join in to protect children, as the measure specifies that it will only take effect after at least five other states pass similar laws “and the enactments by the states have taken effect in each state.”

Even so, Dawn Hawkins, senior vice president and executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), commended the legislation as a step in the right direction. In a press release, she said, “Utah has passed a critical, common sense solution to help protect vulnerable children from accessing harmful pornographic content on phones and tablets.”

NCOSE explained how the bill would work: “Currently, virtually all devices have filters, but they are turned to OFF when sold. This bill simply requires the filters to be turned ON when activated in Utah. Adults are not prohibited from accessing such material and are given a PIN to remove the filter for their own use if they choose to do so. Children will not receive PINs to deactivate the filters.”

State Representative Susan Pulsipher, who sponsored HB 72, said, “As I put this bill together, I had the opportunity to speak with many good parents. They shared with me their desires to help their children stay safe in this world that is increasingly dependent on online activity.”

Jake Anderegg is a state senator who voted for the legislation to protect children. But he still argued that the proposal would not work, “because it tasks manufacturers with turning on the filters – even though the software to do so hasn’t yet been loaded onto the devices. He said that “the option to activate the adult content blockers isn’t available until further down the supply chain.”

“As much as the intentions of this bill are good, logistically it just won’t work,” Anderegg, said. “And I think if we pass this bill, it sends a good message. … But we absolutely will be back here at some point in the future, maybe even in a special session to fix this.”

Hawkins stated that blocking filters “are effective for protecting minors while being unrestrictive on adults.” She added, “There are countless heartbreaking stories of the harm caused by children’s unhindered access to Internet devices—including the individual and familial trauma of pornography exposure and addiction and adult predators targeting and grooming kids online. We commend the Utah legislature for passing this bill that will aid parents in protecting their children from unwanted exposure to pornography.” 

Related resources from Focus on the Family:

How do you respond to your child’s suspected porn use?

Resources for those struggling with pornography and sexual addiction

Plugged In Parent’s Guide to Today’s Technology

Teenage Child Viewing Online Pornography

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Focus on the Family encourage parents to instill in their children a healthy, biblical view of sexuality – before they encounter pornography. The free, downloadable resource The Talk: Healthy Sexuality Education—Basic Goals and Guidance from Focus on the Family has age-appropriate guidance and suggestions to help parents with this important task.

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