Alabama House Bill 428

Summary

Alabama House Bill 428 would make it a crime for anyone to sell any device that allows access to the internet unless it contains an active filter that blocks or restricts access to “obscene material,” which is defined to include “sexual cyber harassment” and any offers or ads for prostitution or human trafficking. Sale of a device without a filter to an adult is a misdemeanor. Sale of a device without a filter to a minor is a felony. The Attorney General may also seek injunctive relief for sale of a device without a filter.

The Attorney General or the owner of the device can bring a civil action if the seller does not respond to a report of failing to block obscene content. Either party can recover $500 for each item that was reported but was not blocked. The court can also require the seller to reimburse the owner for the cost of the device and reasonable legal fees. If the seller fails to unblock material that is not obscene in a reasonable time, declaratory judgment may be sought to unblock the content. The court may also award legal fees but the legislation does not allow for recovery of damages.

A covered business shall not filter a commercial social networking site if it has a call center or reporting website and is “proactive” in removing obscene material once it has been reported.

This bill is based on a model bill drafted by the Human Trafficking Prevention Act (HTPA) campaign. The campaign’s goal is to block access to sexual material and other content on the internet by enacting laws in all the 50 states and Congress to force manufacturers, distributors and retailers to install and activate filtering software on any device that allows access to the internet. In 2017, 14 HTPA bills have been introduced in 12 states. Click here to learn more about the campaign.

Last Action

The bill failed to pass.

Status

Referred to Commerce and Small Business Committee on 3/16/2017.

Analysis

» “Obscene material” is defined as material to which all of the following apply:

  • The average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
  • Depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions;
  • Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value; and,
  • Facilitates or promotes prostitution, assignation, human trafficking, or “sexual cyberharassment.”

» Filters may be deactivated if the owner of the device:

  • Requests in writing that it be deactivated.
  • Verifies that he or she is 18 years old or older.
  • Acknowledges receiving a written “warning” of the potential danger of deactivating the filter.
  • Pays a $20 tax to the business, which must be remitted to the state.  The seller may impose an additional “reasonable” fee.

» Other requirements in the legislation for covered businesses:

  • Send out regular updates to “ensure the quality and performance of the filter” in blocking obscene content.
  • Establish a reporting website or call center so consumers can report failure to block obscene material.
  • Allow consumers to report filtering of non-obscene material.
  • Set up a review process to determine if material material that should have been blocked was not or was not blocked that should have been.The  business must send out updates to the filtering software to correct any under filtering.  It’s not clear that they have to do so if they over filter.

History

  • The bill was read for the first time and referred to the House of Representatives committee on Commerce and Small Business on 03/16/2017.