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On March 23, Utah passed a controversial bill that some see as a dangerous infringement on freedom of speech. Others consider the move to be a necessary –though not final– victory in the war against pornography and its effects on children. Gov. Spencer Cox signed the proposal H.B. 72 Device Filter Amendments, which will require any electronic mobile devices that are sold in Utah to block adult content.

This comes five years after Cox’s predecessor, Gary Herbert, officially declared pornography “a public health crisis” in the very right-wing, predominantly Mormon state. Nevertheless, the new bill does come with one major proviso: it will only take effect if at least five other states pass similar measures within the next ten years. If that does not happen by 2031, then the bill will consequently sunset. This condition was added when several device manufacturers and service carriers voiced the difficulties of implementing this requirement for a single state.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah contends the new provision oversteps parents’ rights by uniformly imposing the same level of restriction on all state residents and disallows parents to make their own determinations. “Parental filters already exist,” pointed out attorney Jason Groth, “and every Utah parent can decide the level of access for their children… This is another example of the Legislature dodging the constitutional impacts of the legislation they pass.”

Samir Jain, policy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, raised a similar concern. “You’ve basically got the state mandating the filtering of lawful content,” he said. “That raises immediate First Amendment flags.”

For his part, Governor Cox is reportedly not bothered with the bill’s constitutionality because it is not going into immediate effect anyway and, more symbolically, is intended to send “an important message.” And Republican Rep. Susan Pulsipher, the bill’s sponsor, asserts the bill is indeed constitutional because the feature can simply be deactivated at a parent’s discretion. “A child that wants to find it and tries to would probably be able to still,” she remarked. “It’s just one step in the right direction.”

However, it may be worth noting that after Utah declared pornography to be a public health crisis in 2016, fifteen states had promptly followed suit by 2019, and of which only three swung blue in the 2020 Presidential election.