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South Carolina's Human Trafficking Prevention Act Is a Shell Game

A South Carolina legislator has proposed a bill, known as the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, that would block internet pornography from being accessed on devices sold within the state, but not everything is as it seems.

Many of you have probably heard about a recent proposed bill in South Carolina: The Human Trafficking Prevention Act , which would require that porn-blocking software be installed on every digital device sold in the state. A number of news websites have done bits on the bill, but few of them discuss what strikes me as the most obvious feature of it: that the bill’s actual purpose is something completely different from its stated purpose. The real purpose of this bill is to shame and humiliate adults who want to look at porn.

However, let us begin by giving the bill a fair chance and considering its stated purpose: to fund the prevention of human trafficking and protect children from pornography. It does neither of those things particularly well. If it were passed into law, the bill would require that any device capable of accessing the internet sold in South Carolina would have to be loaded by default with software that blocks all internet pornography. Let us set aside for the moment whether that is even possible, because the law continues that the blocking functionality may be disabled if the buyer:

(1)    requests in writing that the capability be disabled;

(2)    presents identification to verify that the consumer is eighteen years of age or older;

(3)    acknowledges receiving a written warning regarding the potential danger of deactivating the digital blocking capability; and

(4)    pays a one-time twenty dollar digital access fee.

What this bill would do, in essence, is require that purchasers of digital devices pay a $20.00 fee in order to access pornography on the device. Incidentally, the “human trafficking prevention” part is that the money raised from these $20.00 fees would go towards human trafficking prevention. This is obviously stupid, as government funds are fungible and if the human trafficking task force needs more money then the government can just give them more money. This aspect is a pure PR stunt, and I won’t waste further time on it.

However, if the goal is to block children from internet pornography but still permit adults to view it, then this bill makes no sense at all, as the software outlined in the bill would be “all or nothing” — either all porn is blocked on the device, or no porn is. It would be impossible for a parent to set up the software to allow themselves to view porn but restrict their children from doing so. The software would presumably be difficult or impossible to remove from the device after purchase (otherwise how could they justify a charge of $20 to remove it?) and so would be, in essence, a form of ransomware that would have to be written just to support this bill. The Human Trafficking Prevention Act would therefore be both extremely expensive and very bad at achieving its purported goals.

Now imagine what sort of bill one would propose if the goal was actually to reduce the chance that a child would be exposed to internet pornography. I think the immediately obvious answer is to require that computers be sold with a copy of the sort of parental control software that already exists — like NetNanny — in exchange for a small device tax. These programs allow the parent to carefully control and monitor the behavior of their children on the internet, allow the parent or adult to turn the software off for their own viewing pleasure, and could be included with devices for a tiny fraction of the cost of enforcing the proposed Human Trafficking Prevention Act and its ocean of new red tape. So, why does South Carolina’s new bill not go this route?

The answer is that this bill is only really about one thing: shame. Rep. Bill Chumley of South Carolina doesn’t like porn, and while he can’t effectively ban it outright, he can propose a bill to shame and humiliate people who do like porn. The real goal of this bill is its enforcement — if you want to want to disable the porn filtering on a device you are buying, you have to make a request in writing to the seller, along with signing a waiver about the “danger” of removing the filter and paying $20. This requires that someone publicly announce their desire to use the device for porn, and makes them jump through embarrassing hoops. Furthermore, the $20 charge means that their receipts and credit card records would all also show that they bought the “porn-enabled device,” making it effectively impossible to conceal from parents, spouses, or others who might inquire.

This bill is mostly a publicity stunt, and is very unlikely to ever become a law, but it is important to recognize what it represents. It is not a poorly drafted bill aimed at protecting children — it is a calculated attack on the rights of adults to watch porn in their own homes without first notifying the government and filling out the requisite pornography request forms (in triplicate). It is an attack aimed at us, and with the Republican party platform now claiming that porn is a “public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions,” we need to recognize that more like it are coming.

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