NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A new bill in the Tennessee General Assembly would require content filters to be preinstalled and turned on for phones activated in the state.
Sen. Joey Hensley (R- Hohenwald) wants phone manufacturers to automatically block content that is “harmful to minors,” according to his bill. Under this legislation, adults could unblock content and turn off the filter.
“The bill is just to protect children from accessing inappropriate sites, pornographic sites on their cell phones,” Hensley explained.
Attorneys say while they support limiting kids’ access to porn, the bill itself is legally questionable.
“When you limit people’s speech, what people can read and write and put out, it has to be narrowly tailored,” attorney Frank Lannom said. “It can’t be too broad and this particular statute doesn’t limit itself to the traditional pornography arguments.”
The bill is written to define “harmful to minors” as it is defined under the obscenity section of Tennessee’s criminal code, which could include a wide range of restrictions beyond just pornography.
While supportive of the idea of the bill, the House Democratic Caucus Chair questions how it is worded and whether the concept is constitutional.
“There is a concern if you are going to write a legislation that is this vaguely worded, how far reaching will it go?” asked Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville). “Is this a hidden attempt to limit access to informational or educational materials for our children?”
A similar bill passed in Utah in 2021. At the time, the ACLU said the bill infringes on people’s First Amendment rights; however, their law was written so it doesn’t go into effect until five other states enact a similar law.