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Content filter bills could be legislating into a false sense of security, and a lawsuit



The Idaho House now has a bill that would require manufacturers of smartphones and tablets to enable content filters for children. SB 1253 passed the Idaho Senate last week.

While well-meaning, the legislation could lead the state into the middle of a lawsuit.

 

This is because, while the goal is to block young people from consuming inappropriate content, the technology could end up closing off a lot of protected speech, too, and affect the way adults can use the internet. 

 

Censorship regimes like this were attempted before at the federal level in 1996 and struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. There is no reason to believe that this time would be any different. Last year, conservative states like Tennessee considered similar proposals and rejected them.

 

Ensuring our children are safe online is of critical importance. No sane person denies this. But an important question for every American to ask themselves is: have I made my child safer by weakening their constitutional rights and empowering the government to be my co-parent? The answer is clearly not. We can easily institute campaigns to raise parent awareness of online services currently available to protect their children.




"A related perverse incentive is that having these device-level content filters enabled by default may cause parents to become complacent, believing that their smart devices are sufficiently safe for their kids to use. However, not only are the filters themselves imperfect but they are also easily circumvented by tech-savvy teens."

It should be noted that filters, blockers, and screen time monitors already exist and don’t come with draconian government mandates. We can even follow other states like Florida in implementing digital literacy and safety into school curricula. Tech companies have introduced various ideas to help with the effort as well. 


To improve outcomes and protect Idaho's youth online, we must find effective solutions through collaborative hard work and ideas that can advance safety, not just legislation that could force a lawsuit. It is also critically important to recognize the complexity of having 50 different state solutions to a problem that exists on a national scale.


Rather than putting government at the center of child-rearing, we need family-focused policies that equip children with opt-in safety tools, free from coercion. Though this is challenging work, it is worthwhile to craft thoughtful policies that actually achieve our shared goals.

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