POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Bill targeting children’s cell phone protections moves to the Utah Senate

Feb 1, 2024, 10:00 AM | Updated: 10:33 am

The Capitol is pictured in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024....

The Capitol is pictured in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. A bill to build a pedestrian bridge in Sandy has been approved by a legislative committee. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY–A Utah Senate Committee has approved a bill that would make phone companies responsible for the obscene content children see on their cell phones.

Children’s Device Protection Act: the purpose of the bill

The Children’s Device Protection Act, SB104, requires manufacturers of smartphones and tablets to turn on all content filters in their devices before selling to parents.

State Sen. Todd Weiler is sponsoring the bill. He says there’s already too much of a burden on parents to figure it out.

It takes “almost 22 steps to turn [content filters] on,” wrote Sen. Weiler in a text message. “Probably the same to turn them off.”

The Children’s Device Protection Act also gives parents the ability to turn restrictions on or off their child’s device by using a password.

Additionally, the bill creates some enforcement muscle. It would empower Utah’s Attorney General to pursue lawsuits against phone and tablet makers whenever the filters fail to protect children from pornography and other obscene content.

Does the bill go too far?

Business leaders, like Utah Retail Merchants’ Association President Dave Davis, say the bill is too heavy-handed.

“We’re talking about criminal penalties, a year in prison, $50,000 per violation,” said Davis at a public committee meeting yesterday.

Representatives from Verizon Wireless and AT&T also expressed opposition to the bill.

Specifically, SB104 says a first infraction would result in a $5,000 fine, and each subsequent violation would add another $50,000.

Davis added that the bill could spell economic trouble for Utah’s technology sector.

“We just [won’t] get devices,” said Davis. “The Apples of the world just decide, ‘Look, we’re not going to do a Utah-only operating system or device.'”

On the other hand, supporters said the current complexity of content filter settings keeps parents from protecting their kids. One of the witnesses in favor of the bill was Elder Mervyn Arnold, an emeritus Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Try to find it,” said Elder Arnold, referring to the content filters on phones and tablets. “I mean, honestly. Usually, they’re buried somewhere down in there, under a title that doesn’t even lead to the filter.”

The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a vote.

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Bill targeting children’s cell phone protections moves to the Utah Senate