Utah governor signs Net-porn bill

Governor signs online filtering bill over objections from tech companies and Net service providers.

Utah's governor signed a bill on Monday that would require Internet providers to block Web sites deemed pornographic and could also target e-mail providers and search engines.

The controversial legislation will create an official list of Web sites with publicly available material deemed "harmful to minors." Internet providers in Utah must provide their customers with a way to disable access to sites on the list or face felony charges.

Technology companies had urged Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman not to sign the bill (click for PDF), saying it was constitutionally suspect and worded so vaguely its full impact is still unclear.

The measure, SB 260, says: "Upon request by a consumer, a service provider may not transmit material from a content provider site listed on the adult content registry." A service provider is defined as any person or company who "provides an Internet access service to a consumer," which could include everything from cable companies to universities, coffeeshops, and homes with open 802.11 wireless connections.

"I am having a hard time seeing how this law will survive a constitutional challenge, given the track record of state anti-Internet porn laws--which are routinely struck down as violating the First Amendment and the dormant Commerce Clause," Eric Goldman, a professor at the Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wis., wrote in a critique of the law.

Spokesman Tammy Kikuchi said Monday that Huntsman "doesn't have a concern about the constitutional challenge."

Supporters of the Utah bill, such as advocacy group Citizens Against Pornography, had pressed for the measure as a way to give parents more control of their home Internet connections.

Also targeted are content providers, defined as any company that "creates, collects, acquires or organizes electronic data" for profit. Any content provider that the Utah attorney general claims hosts material that's harmful to minors must rate it or face third-degree felony charges.

Lobbying group NetCoalition, whose members include Google, Yahoo and News.com publisher CNET Networks, had written a letter to the Utah Senate saying the legislation could affect search engines, e-mail providers and Web hosting companies. "A search engine that links to a Web site in Utah might be required...to 'properly rate' the Web site," the letter warned.

A federal judge struck down a similar law in Pennsylvania last year.

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