Internet filtering laws in the United States are mostly introduced at the state level, although federal legislation has been introduced for schools and libraries – The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
Typically, Internet filtering laws in the United States are concerned with protecting minors. Laws apply to schools and libraries, although some states also require publicly funded institutions to apply controls to block the accessing of pornography, obscene and other harmful material by minors.
However, legislation is now being considered to force vendors or suppliers of Internet-enabled devices to implement Internet filtering technology by default. The aim is not to prevent adults from accessing pornographic material on their personal devices, only to ensure that there are some controls in place. That means all vendors/suppliers of Internet-enabled devices will be required to implement a web filtering control, with the new device owners required to opt in if they wish to view pornography. Opting in must be done in writing and requires proof of age.
Consumers will also be required to pay a fee to have the Internet filtering software removed. In South Carolina, legislation has been proposed that would require consumers to pay $20 to have the pornography block removed. The legislation was filed with the South Carolina General Assembly in December 2016. Similar legislation was also proposed in Utah in 2016.
Federal Internet Filtering Laws in the United States
At the federal level, all schools and libraries are required to comply with CIPA and implement web filters to prevent minors from accessing obscene material, pornographic images, images of child abuse, and other potentially harmful material if they wish to apply for discounts under the E-rate program or accept Library Services and Technology Act grants. If organizations choose not to apply for those grants or receive E-rate discounts, Internet filtering laws in the United States do not apply, at least at the federal level.
State-Level Legislation on Internet Controls
Internet filtering laws in the United States are applied at the state level and usually concern K12 schools and public libraries. Not all states require Internet filters to be applied. Some only require policies to be introduced to restrict access.
Individual states that have introduced legislation requiring schools and libraries to implement web filters or policies to control the content that can be accessed by minors are summarized in the table below. Since state laws often change, it is strongly advisable to consult your state department for updates to state legislation.
When policies are required to control access, schools and libraries may prefer to use a software or cloud-based solution to provide a greater level of protection. State laws are only concerned with ensuring the minimum level of Internet safety for minors when venturing online.
Quick Reference Guide Detailing U.S. States with Internet Filtering Laws (2017)
|Arizona||Yes (Technology)||Yes (Technology or policies)|
|Arkansas||Yes (Policies)||Yes (Policies)|
|Colorado||Yes (Policies)||Yes (Policies)|
|Georgia||Yes (Policies)||Yes (Policies)|
|Idaho||Yes (Policies and Technology)||Yes (Policies)|
|Kansas||Yes (Technology)||Yes (Technology)|
|Kentucky||Yes (Policies)||Yes (Policies)|
|Massachusetts||Yes (Policies or Technology)||No (Policies or Technology)|
|Missouri||Yes (Technology)||Yes (Technology)|
|New Hampshire||Yes (Policies)||No (Policies)|
|New York||No||Yes (Policies)|
|Pennsylvania||Yes (Technology)||Yes (Technology)|
|Rhode Island||Yes (Policies)||No|
|South Carolina||Yes (Policies)||No (Under evaluation)|
|South Dakota||Yes (Policies or Technology)||No|
|Utah||Yes (Policies)||Yes (Policies or Technology)|
|Virginia||Yes (Technology)||Yes (Policies)|
* Libraries that apply for and receive funding through the Enrich Iowa Program
** Public libraries receiving state funding must also apply filtering controls to prevent adults from accessing obscene material including child pornography.
*** Home schooled students must also be provided with a filtering device or service
The following states have introduced legislation that requires Internet service providers to offer web filtering services to allow state residents to protect children from accessing potential harmful website content
Internet filtering laws in the United States are subject to change. The Internet filtering laws in the United States detailed on this page are for information purposes only. Schools and libraries should consult their state/education departments for details of the laws that apply in their state.