Rhode Island Senate Bill 550


Rhode Island Senate Bill 550 would criminalize the knowing and intentional use of a computer or electronic device to disseminate to a minor a depiction of sexually explicit nudity or conduct. It would also bar the dissemination of any image of sexual activity or the “intimate areas” of another person without the consent of all the people in the picture.

It is companion to Rhode Island House Bill 5570.


The Senate Committee on Judiciary recommended the bill be held for further study.


Harmful to minors provision:

The definition of what material is illegal to disseminate to a minor is unconstitutionally overbroad. It does not include any of the three prongs of the Miller/Ginsberg test, which defines what the Supreme Court has said may be proscribed for minors.

Even if the bill included the Miller/Ginsberg test, it would be unconstitutional to apply that restriction to general communication on the Internet. It limits material on the Internet to what is acceptable for minors, which would deprive adults of their First Amendment right to access that material.

Nonconsensual distribution provision:

The First Amendment does not allow a prior restraint of a lawfully taken picture. The government cannot force a photographer to gain consent to disseminate a picture that is not otherwise unlawful. The state can only bar the dissemination of the image if the content of the image is illegal (assuming there are no contractual or copyright disputes that are subject to the litigation).


  • On February 28, 2013, the bill was introduced [2] and referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
  • Media Coalition submitted a memo in opposition [1] to the members of the committee, ahead of a hearing on the bill. The memo explains the constitutional issues with the bill.
  • The committee held a hearing on March 7, 2013. The committee recommended the bill be held for further study.

Last updated: Sep 14, 2015