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By Eric Lieberman

Lawmakers in Arizona and around a dozen other states are currently considering some form of legislation that would block pornography on computer and phones unless people pay a tax.

In fact, proponents of the porn tax are expected to introduce a bill at the federal level sometime this month, according to CBS 5.

Generally referred to as the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, the bill would require all internet-connected devices to be rigged with porn blocking software. Consumers who wish to rid the filter and view erotic content would have to pay a fee for every device.

Different states are introducing, to some degree, different versions of laws, so the details and language vary.

Advocates for the bill argue that it would greatly diminish child exploitation, domestic violence and human trafficking.

A video on the official advocacy website for the bill says “pornography is a public health crisis” asserting that since Utah declared it as such in April 2016, it has allowed “for folks to appreciate the fact that it needs to be regulated.”

Reclassifying pornography from a moral question to a health question is important, according to the video, because it can purportedly harm mental, marital, emotional, sexual, and reproductive health.

“What we know about pornography is that it’s addictive. It actually affects the brain,” said Kathleen Winn, who works for the Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network. “Like any drug, like an addiction, you need more and more and more of it to get the same reaction from it as the first time you saw it. So yes, I absolutely believe pornography is contributing to the growing criminal enterprise of sex trafficking.”

How the filters would decide what is and isn’t porn could be a dubious prospect, as relatively explicit content can be found on non-pornographic sources, like benign advertisements or academic materials.

“Content filters designed to catch explicit content have historically been harsh on all sorts of sexuality-related content, from educational websites to news to art,” Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason writes in an op-ed.

And that is just one potential problem. In the case of South Carolina, which debated a porn tax bill, sellers and manufacturers of  devices would be compelled to install digital-blocking capabilities on every piece of equipment with internet capacity, or else be forced to pay a fine for each device sold.

The legislation, depending on the scope and vagueness of the language, could also cause civil liberties issues.

“The way it’s written, it would cover your router. It would cover your modem,” Electronic Frontier Foundation researcher Dave Maass told Brown of Reason. “Plus, now Best Buy is sitting on a database of people who wanted their porn filters removed.”

Josh Blackman, an associate professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that such a law is definitely unconstitutional, comparing it to a famous court case.

“In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court held that California could not prohibit the sale of violent video games to minors. That law was overbroad, and violated the freedom of speech,” Blackman told The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF).

The proposed law in question here “is even more overbroad, and by default, censors the sort of information adults can access unless they pay a fine. Even though the government does have the power to regulate “obscene” content–which is different from pornography — imposing a filter would sweep in a lot of constitutionally protected speech,” Blackman continued.

Winn, though, compares it to other subjective vices.

“We have taxes on cigarettes. We have taxes on alcohol. We have taxes on any product that you go and buy. This is a product,” Winn argued.

How much a $20 tax would really deter (or perhaps absolve someone of the alleged moral turpitude of) watching porn is up for debate — a conversation state legislatures are currently having, and the federal government may soon engage in.

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  • MatFan

    Pornography, drugs, and entitlement programs are all very addictive.

    • Sho Rembo

      So can be video games and the internet and a whole slew of things. I guess it’s best we just lock everyone up so no one can do anything then we won’t have to worry about what someone does to themselves.

      • MatFan

        Or we could exercise more self-control.

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