Bills to protect Arizona kids from online porn advance with GOP support

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Arizona lawmakers are weighing their options for how to best protect Arizona children from online pornography.

During the Senate Finance and Commerce committee meeting on Mar. 18, two bills aimed at limiting underage access to obscene online materials were the center of discussion. 

One option, House Bill 2661, requires manufacturers to equip devices like phones and tablets with an obscene materials filter that would be automatically enabled if the device is activated in Arizona for a minor. 

The filters would be controlled by a password, and if anyone over the age of 18 is found to have used that password to disable the filters for a minor, they could be subject to legal punishment. 

House Speaker Ben Toma, who sponsored the bill, said its main goal is to prevent minors from being able to access obscene materials online by utilizing filters that are already on devices. 

“These filters do exist, because they can be turned on by parents after activation, but it’s a really intense process,” Toma said. “There is really no reason why they shouldn’t be automatically turned on once that user inputs their age and it’s determined that they are a minor.” 

Since its latest operating system update in September, Apple now automatically turns on safety filters on all new devices to protect younger users. Current users can enable these filters for their child’s device or their own through their device settings. 

Google and Android devices have similar capabilities through Family Link, which allows parents to activate filters to monitor and regulate their child’s device usage. 

Last week, Utah passed a nearly identical bill that would require filters to be embedded into devices manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2025, and enabled for all devices activated for minors. 

HB2661 would go into effect at the start of 2026, leaving time for manufacturers to work out the kinks in Utah before they would have to do the same in Arizona. 

“They are going to have to comply with Utah’s laws, and I think they are going to have to comply with ours, as well,” Toma said

The filters would only pertain to applications integrated into the device, which means that they would not apply to any browsers or apps downloaded onto the phone. Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, can also be used to work around the filters. 

Another key point of Toma’s bill is that the filters would only be required on devices activated within Arizona, unless other states move to pass the same law. If a phone or tablet is bought in another state, and brought to Arizona, it would not have to comply with the bill. 

Chris McKenna, an advocate for internet safety for families, said that he supports the bill due to its intentionally narrow scope and technical feasibility. 

“What’s true about every smartphone in this room right now is three things: Number one, it knows your birthday, number two, it knows where you are, and it has a filter on it that complies with its legislation,” he said. “We’re simply saying, ‘Turn it on for all of Arizona’s minors.’”

He addressed concerns raised by Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein as to what would be considered obscene and filtered out, and who would be making such decisions. 

“My concern with the bill would be with freedom of speech. We all can agree that we want to protect children, but we’ve also seen that .. sometimes people will call it obscene just to see a same-sex kiss on TV, and that’s not obscene to many other people,” Epstein said.  

In response, McKenna said that the understanding of what is obscenity and what is not is very clear to those that are making these decisions, assuring that software is reliable in its classifications. 

“These decisions — categorizing websites — happen millions of times, all day long. Search engines… are crawling and identifying new sites and categorizing them as pornographic or not pornographic all day long, every day,” he said. “The intelligence around obscenity…does that extremely well.” 

However, Vice President of NetChoice Carl Szabo argued that the way the bill defines obscene material leaves plenty of room for error and misjudgment. 

The bill utilizes the subjective “Miller Test” in its definition, which requires the content to be judged by “applying contemporary community standards” as to whether or not it is offensive or overtly sexual. 

“The fundamental problem with that is that community standards waver very differently,” Szabo said. “What can’t be done is somebody sitting in Silicon Valley figuring out what the community standards are for what is obscene or not obscene in Mesa, Arizona. They just aren’t going to have access to that.” 

Szabo said that the bill does not do enough to accomplish its intended purpose and could instead make it harder for parents to monitor their children’s browsing. 

“The definition of the word ‘filter’ in this legislation says the filters must be on the device. One of the ways that can be interpreted is to say off-device filters are not allowed,” he said.  

Another speaker, former Florida legislator Justin Hill, said that HB2661 could lead to a slippery slope into other things that can be deemed as too obscene for public consumption, and other content to which the government can control our access. 

Sen. Brian Fernandez, D-Yuma, expressed concerns about how the bill would be implemented and enforced if passed, citing support from prominent pornographic sites as an indicator of a measure that may not have the impact it intends to. 

“Pornhub is supportive of these types of bills, and they actually are very much against what Rep. (Tim) Dunn is doing — they see that as infringement on their market, but they like this idea,” he said. “Part of the reason why I think they like this idea is because it’s not workable, and I think they know it’s not workable.” 

The other approach to this matter, Dunn’s House Bill 2586, takes a different approach, by placing the responsibility on obscene websites to verify the age of users wishing to access their site’s content. Users would do so by either entering information into a third-party system that would compare the reported information with public data or by providing information that otherwise would confirm their age. 

Szabo called HB2586 the better approach to the matter. 

“Much in the same way we would expect a supermarket, when they are selling alcohol, to collect ID, we would not expect a supermarket to collect ID at the door for somebody just going in to buy shampoo,” he said. 

A similar law recently passed by the Texas legislature was recently upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, after a lower court judge blocked the bill from going into effect last August. As a result, Pornhub has blocked all access from Texas based users.  

Texas is one of the 9 states that now have similar laws requiring stricter age verification for porn sites, including Indiana, Virginia, Montana and others. 

Toma, who is also a co-sponsor for Dunn’s HB2586, said that he is “equally supportive” of that measure. Utah has found a way to incorporate both approaches, as it has recently passed laws similar to both HB2661 and HB2586. 

HB2661 passed through committee with a vote of 4-3 and now heads to the Senate floor. Currently, HB2586 awaits consideration by the full Senate.

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