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New bill would require all smart phones, tablets to be sold with adult content filter enabled

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A new bill dubbed the Protection of Minors from Unfiltered Devices Act would require all smartphones and tablets sold in Alabama to have an adult content filter enabled upon purchase, with violations constituting a civil penalty of up to $50,000 for the device’s manufacturer.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, the bill, if signed into law, would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, and would apply to all internet-enabled smartphones or tablets sold in the state.

“The intent behind this is to try to keep this hardcore pornography and adult websites away from children,” Sells told Alabama Daily News.

Under existing law, it is illegal in Alabama to send harmful material to a minor, which includes “sexual conduct or nudity,” with violators subject to a misdemeanor criminal charge with a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Sells’ bill would not impose any new criminal charges, but rather a civil penalty for manufacturers such as Apple or Sony were their devices to be sold without an adult content filter enabled upon purchase.

Sells explained that adults would be able to bypass the filter with a password, and that the intent of his bill was strictly to restrict access for minors to harmful material. 

Sells had introduced similar bills over the past three years, though they had failed to make it out of committees. His latest version of the bill, Sells said, was stripped of criminal penalties and instead includes civil penalties as a means to have it reviewed by a different committee.

“It just makes sense to try to protect our kids from pornography,” Sells said. “It’s a no-brainer to me, and I thought that for three years, but I hope this is the year for everybody else to realize it. I just haven’t been able to get it out of committee before.”

Under the bill, the state’s attorney general would be permitted to revoke any license or certificate for smartphone and tablet manufacturers to do business in Alabama were they to be found in violation of the statute. Parents or guardians who discover a smartphone or tablet to be sold without an adult content filter enabled would be permitted to seek damages from manufacturers in the amount of $50,000 for each violation.

The bill has 58 co-sponsors as of Tuesday from both House Republicans and Democrats, and is scheduled to be voted on Wednesday in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

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