Utah governor signs divisive measure to require porn filters

FILE - Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks during a briefing at the Utah State Capitol on Jan. 8, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers have voted to require every cellphone and tablet sold there to automatically block pornography, the conservative state's most recent move targeting online porn and one that critics call a significant intrusion on free speech. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News, via AP, Pool, File)
FILE - Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks during a briefing at the Utah State Capitol on Jan. 8, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers have voted to require every cellphone and tablet sold there to automatically block pornography, the conservative state's most recent move targeting online porn and one that critics call a significant intrusion on free speech. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News, via AP, Pool, File) (Jeffrey D. Allred)

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is a step closer to requiring all cellphones and tablets sold in the conservative state to automatically block pornography after the Republican governor signed legislation Tuesday that critics call a significant intrusion of free speech.

Gov. Spencer Cox has said the measure would send an “important message” about preventing children from accessing explicit online content. The proposal is the latest move in Utah's legislative campaign to curb the availability of porn.

The measure won’t go into effect unless five other states enact similar laws, a provision that was added to address concerns that it would be difficult to implement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said the constitutionality of the bill was not adequately considered and that it will likely be argued in court.

“This is another example of the Legislature dodging the constitutional impacts of the legislation they pass," ACLU attorney Jason Groth said.

Critics of the measure, including adult film star Cherie DeVille, had called on the governor to veto the measure because it could violate residents’ First Amendment rights.

Cox has said he isn’t as worried about constitutional concerns because the proposal won't be immediately enacted.

Rep. Susan Pulsipher, the bill’s sponsor, said she was “grateful” the governor signed the legislation, which she hopes will help parents keep their children from unintended exposure to pornography. She asserts that the measure passes constitutional muster because adults can deactivate the filters, but experts said it still raises several legal concerns.