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Utah governor weighs antiporn proposal

Bill requiring Net providers to cordon off "harmful to minors" Web sites goes to governor after tech firms fail to block it.

The Utah governor is deciding whether to sign a bill that would require Internet providers to block Web sites deemed pornographic and that could also target e-mail providers and search engines.

Late Wednesday night, the Utah Senate approved controversial legislation that would create an official list of Web sites with publicly available material found to be "harmful to minors." Internet providers in Utah must offer their customers a way to disable access to sites on the list or face felony charges.

A spokesman for newly elected Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman said his aides would need to review the final version. "We have until March 22 to figure out what to do," spokeswoman Tammy Kikuchi said Thursday.

Technology companies had opposed the bill (click here for PDF), saying it is constitutionally suspect and is worded so vaguely that its full impact is still unclear.

"I'd be shocked if the governor did not sign this bill," said Markham Erickson, director of federal policy for lobbying group NetCoalition. "But I'm quite certain there will be a constitutional challenge." NetCoalition members include Google, Yahoo, and News.com publisher CNET Networks.

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.

Opponents, though, worry that the legislation could go far beyond just broadband and dial-up providers. "Does this cover only major Internet providers, or are they talking about the local coffee shop that offers Wi-Fi?" asked Kate Dean, manager of the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association in Washington, D.C.

The measure, S.B.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."

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

A letter that NetCoalition sent to the state Senate earlier this week said the wording is so vague it 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 said.

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