Iowa bill would force all phones, tablets to have age-limit filters

Iowa bill would force all phones, tablets to have age-limit filters

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake)/official legislative photo Various cellphones/Shutterstock

By Ty Rushing

January 23, 2024

A new bill introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives would require all cell phone and tablet manufacturers to include a filter to prevent the device from displaying what the state legally defines as “obscene materials” to minors or face a civil suit.

HF 2114 was introduced by Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) and would require all devices in Iowa to determine the age of the user during activation and account setup and automatically trigger a filter to prevent underage users from viewing “obscene materials” on the internet.

The bill does not explain how the filters would be able to disseminate an innocent search inquiry from a minor about say breast cancer or “what is Michelangelo’s David” versus something more provocative in nature.

The only people legally allowed to disable the filters would be the minor’s parents or guardian. If anyone else knowingly disables the filter, they could be fined a maximum of $5,000. A subsequent violation would be treated as an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by  a maximum fine of $50,000 and up to a year of “imprisonment.” 

The bill also would allow the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to sue device manufacturers that don’t comply with the bill, were it to become law. Apple, Google, and Samsung are among the companies that would be affected by this bill were it to take effect.

Iowa’s legal definition of obscenity is “any material depicting or describing the genitals, sex acts, masturbation, excretory functions or sadomasochistic abuse which the average person, taking the material as a whole and applying contemporary community standards with respect to what is suitable material for minors, would find appeals to the prurient interest and is patently offensive; and the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value.”

In recent years, Iowa Republicans attempted to broaden the definition of obscenity so that it would include items that don’t meet the legal standard but that they don’t like. They have also used the current obscenity law to create new restrictions on other things they don’t like.

Iowa Republicans enacted a strict book ban on public schools using similar obscenity arguments last year, and in 2022, a bill was introduced that would have jailed teachers and librarians for providing materials deemed “obscene or harmful to minors.”

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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