A blatantly unconstitutional proposal in the Virginia House of Delegates would require customers to pay $20 in order to unlock the ability to view pornography or other obscene materials on devices purchased in the state.

The legislation is House Bill 1592, known as the Human Trafficking Prevention Act. It would require that  "any product that makes content accessible on the internet" possess a "digital content blocking capability that renders obscene content, including obscene items, obscene performances, or obscene exhibitions, inaccessible." The legislation was introduced by Republican Delegate David A. LaRock, representing Virginia's 33rd District. Users who would like for the ability to view this type of content would have to pay a small fee to the government to unlock the content blocker, acknowledge that they are over the age of 18, and agree to accept the liabilities associated with consuming obscene content online. Revenue collected from these fees would go towards establishing a fund to support victims of human trafficking and help law enforcement prosecute their traffickers and abusers. As beneficial as this fund would be, many are saying that the risk of this legislation far outweighs the reward. For one, there are serious constitutional concerns. It is unclear whether such a content ban would pass constitutional muster, specifically the first amendment's free speech protections. On top of that, it is unclear whether such a ban would even be enforceable. There is no requirement that Virginians purchase their devices in-state. If HB 1592 was to become law, there would be nothing stopping residents from purchasing their laptops, tablets, and cell phones in nearby D.C., Maryland, West Virginia, or North Carolina.
There are also questions over how HB 1592 would work if signed into law. Who would decide whether content was obscene -- distributors or the state government? Would rated-R movies with gratuitous sex scenes fall under the ban? Is it even possible to regulate obscene content? But other than these constitutional and feasibility concerns, others are questioning whether this is even a good idea. Users paying the $20 "digital access fee" would essentially be entering their names into a government database. The Virginia ACLU's Executive Director, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, expressed serious concern about the ramifications of giving the Virginia state government access to this kind of information. "Do we really want to set up a system where the government gets $20 and the name of everyone who asks a digital content provider to unblock their access to digital content deemed obscene by that provider (who also gets to charge a fee for doing so?)," she asked. Democrat Governor Ralph Northam has yet to express an opinion on HB 1592, though his record on similar issues suggests he would not be willing to sign it into law. It is even unclear whether the Human Trafficking Prevention Act would have the votes to pass through both chambers of the state legislature. Is HB 1592 designed to help human trafficking victims or punish Virginians who consume adult content? If the answer is the former, then there are plenty of other ways to raise that money. If the answer is the latter, then it is unlikely that any judge would approve a law blocking access to legal obscene content. What do you think? Is this a good idea? Tell us your opinion in the comment section below.

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