Missouri Bill Would Ban Porn on Cell Phones, Computers, Unless Access Fee Paid

By Michael W. Chapman | March 8, 2018 | 3:48 PM EST

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Missouri House Representative Jim Neely (R-District 8) introduced a bill in the State Legislature this week that would require phone and computer dealers in Missouri to install filtering software on their products to block pornography and prostitution websites, as part of an overall effort to stifle human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children nationwide.  

People who want to access pornography and prostitution websites would be required to pay a $20 fee to have the filtering software removed.

The legislation, HB 2422, would amend existing law in Missouri and is called the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Act.

The bill defines "blocking software" as "software that prevents a device from accessing obscene material on the Internet." It also defines "obscene material" in detail, and adds that this obscene material "when considered or taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, or scientific value."

The legislation would require the software to block obscene material "that is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. Section 2251," which deals with the exploitation of children, and prohibits "access to revenge pornography ... a website that facilitates prostitution ... [and] a website that facilitates human trafficking."

September Trible, director of the
Restoration House of Greater
Kansas City. (YouTube)

If you are a pornography consumer and you want the blocking software deactivated, you would have to contact the distributor, provide proof that you are 18 or older, and pay a one-time deactivation fee. The proposed $20 deactivation fee would be deposited in the state-run "Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Fund."

September Trible, who runs the Restoration House of Greater Kansas City, told KSHB 41 Action News that the legislation would help reduce instances of human trafficking. There are about 5,000 people in the Kansas City metro area, including children, who are commerically and sexually exploited each year, she told 41 Action News.  

The libertarian Electronic Frontier Foundation strongly opposes the legislation, and similar legislation in other states. In a nationwide letter, EFF researcher Gennie Gebhart criticized the bill as a "censorship machine" and declared that "state lawmakers want to block pornography at the expense of your free speech, privacy, and hard-earned cash."

Gennie Gebhart, researcher, the
Electronic Frontier
Foundation. (EFF)

"The bill would force the companies we rely upon for open access to the Internet to create a massive, easily abused censorship apparatus," said Gebhart.  "Tech companies would be required to operate call centers or online reporting centers to monitor complaints about which sites should or should not be filtered. The technical requirements for this kind of aggressive platform censorship at scale are simply unworkable."

There are numerous federal laws against the manufacture, distribution, sale, and reception of pornography in the United States, at least 14 federal statutes. Since the Clinton era, however, and now in the age of the Internet, many of these laws are not enforced.

The U.S. Supreme Court developed a three-pronged test for obscenity in the 1970s and 1980s called the Miller test.  It defines whether material is obscene in the following way: 

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  1. Whether the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards, finds that the matter, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interests (i.e., an erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion);
  2. Whether the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards, finds that the matter depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way (i.e., ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, masturbation, excretory functions, lewd exhibition of the genitals, or sado-masochistic sexual abuse); and
  3. Whether a reasonable person finds that the matter, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
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Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman