Delegate Dave A. LaRock (R) and State Sen. Richard Hayden Black (R) have proposed a new bill in the Virginia General Assembly that would require a web filter on internet-enabled devices sold or distributed in the state of Virginia.
House Bill No. 1592, also referred to as the The Human Trafficking Prevention Act, is intended to reduce the availability of pornography, which is believed will reduce the level of human trafficking in Virginia.
Mandatory Web Filter on Internet-Enabled Devices in Virginia
The bill calls for a web filter on all internet-enabled devices. The filtering mechanism would be required to block all obscene items, including obscene images, obscene performances, and obscene exhibitions, in addition to child pornography and unlawful images/videos of people that have been recorded and/or distributed without consent.
The bill does not amount to a ban on pornography in Virginia, as it would be possible for purchasers of Internet-enabled devices – which includes computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones – to legally disable the content blocking mechanism.
To do so would require an individual to prove to the vendor or distributor of the device, by means of an official photographic ID, that they are over 18 years of age. The distributor of the device must receive a written receipt confirming a written warning has been provided advising of the dangers of unblocking the content filter.
Anyone purchasing a device must also pay a one-time digital access fee of $20 to have the web filter lifted, in addition to any fee charged by the distributor or seller of the device to remove the web filtering capability on the device.
The $20 fee would be paid into a Virginia Prevention of Human Trafficking Victim Fund, while the charges applied by the seller/distributor could be retained. The Virginia Prevention of Human Trafficking Victim Fund would be used solely for supporting victims of human trafficking and to pursue criminal prosecutions in human trafficking cases.
There will be stiff financial penalties and potentially jail time for any seller/distributor who fails to apply the web filter. Removal of the filter without paying the fee would similarly be considered an offense under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
There have been mixed reactions to the new bill. Proponents of the bill believe a web filter on internet-enabled devices is necessary to make it harder for state residents to access pornography and that it would also help to prevent minors from accidentally or deliberately accessing obscene website content. It is argued that making individuals pay for access to obscene content would help to eliminate temptation.
Critics of the bill have said the proposed legislation amounts to a ‘sin tax’, while many others feel that such a law would violates the human rights of Americans.
Virginia is not the first state in the US to consider such a bill. House Bill No. 1592 is a virtual carbon copy of legislation that has been proposed in several other states including Alabama, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Carolina.