SEX

Meet The Man Who Wants To Block Porn Across The U.S.

Chris Sevier, a man who sued for the right to marry his laptop, is trying to get all states to mandate porn blocking

SEX
Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Dec 31, 2016 at 1:15 PM ET

There is a state-by-state campaign underway in the United States to pass legislation that would require laptops and all internet-connected devices to come preloaded with an unspecified porn blocking mechanism.

It’s a mission led by Chris Sevier, a Tennessee man and Christian music producer who previously sued Apple for his alleged porn “addiction” and fought marriage equality by filing a stunt lawsuit asking for the right to marry his laptop. He’s an attorney who was disbarred in his state for “mental infirmity or illness” — and, despite the outrageousness of Sevier’s back story, let alone the nature of the legislation itself, the push to block porn across the country appears to be gaining some traction.

A bill of this kind has been pre-filed in South Carolina — but Sevier says that North Dakota and Indiana will soon pre-file a version of the bill ahead of the next legislative session. He claims that, in total, sponsors from 27 states have agreed to introduce a version of the bill, which Sevier drafted. The text varies somewhat state by state, but the overall aim is largely the same: to force manufacturers of “products that distribute the internet” to sell their devices with technology that broadly blocks pornography as well as websites that facilitate the sale of sex. Consumers can opt out of the block if they are over the age of 18 and pay a $20 fee to the state.

“The reason why this bill is constitutionally sound, this isn’t like a prohibition. It just makes it by default, it’s blocked,” Sevier told Vocativ. “There are a lot of adults who don’t want access to that stuff.”

The push behind the bill — which is titled, the “Human Trafficking Prevention Act” — is largely being done in the name of fighting human trafficking. What, you might ask, does human trafficking have to do with pornography? Sevier argues that “pornography is an advertisement for prostitution,” and that it “erodes consent,” “promotes sexual voyeurism,” and “cultivates female objectification.” He adds, “If you go to Backpage.com, you’ll find countless advertisements from the girls saying, ‘We promise to give a porn-like experience in real life.’ That is not a mistake.” However, he makes no distinction here between women who have been forced into sex work and those who are doing it consensually.

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The bill also gestures toward the alleged social harms of pornography and the need to protect children from obscene materials. (As for the harm of pornography, several studies have contradicted the common anti-pornography claim that adult content is linked to domestic violence and sexual abuse. There isn’t reliable evidence to support the existence of “porn addiction.”) In addition to blocking regular porn, Sevier highlights that it would also filter out “revenge porn” and child porn, which is already illegal. Despite a lack of evidence, Sevier sees consensual adult pornography as a gateway to child porn and abuse. “It sends them down a slippery slope where before you know it, they’re starting to get more and more into hardcore forms, like worse and worse, like grosser and grosser, and the next thing you know they’re on a plane flying to Thailand to molest a child,” he said.

Sevier’s text relies on state obscenity laws regarding the display of adult or “girlie” magazines. Commonly, states require brick-and-mortar vendors to place “obscene” material behind blinders. Sevier argues that the manufacturers of digital devices should be held to the same standards. (Although, it’s worth noting that if you want access to an adult magazine at a 7-11, all you have to do is buy the magazine — you don’t have to pay an additional fee to uncensor the product that you’re purchasing.)

Display restrictions are much more limiting and specific than federal obscenity law, which is notoriously vague. Take, for example, Alabama, which prohibits the public display of “the human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering, or the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple, or the depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.”

Apply these same standards to all of the internet, and it’s easy to imagine not just hardcore pornography being filtered out, but also art and sex education materials. It’s a critique Sevier has anticipated. “There’s a lot of scenarios where a parent, a grownup, or a minor could possibly be okay without having access to that content,” he said. “If they really want access and they’re over 18 they have to go get the filter removed. There are a lot of people that are gonna say, ‘Yes, there might be a few things I’m going to miss out on, but I really don’t need that stuff.'”

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He added, “This is really about … people who want to avoid being exposed to pornography because they want to stay married for example, or they don’t want to open the door to being arrested for child pornography and they prefer not to go to federal prison for 20 years.” (Again, Sevier’s vision of the internet is as a place where someone can easily stumble across child pornography without trying — or they can be lured to it by consensual adult pornography.) More broadly, he argues that the bill is about consent, not morality. “It allows people who want to avoid exposure to have to tools to not be exposed,” he said. The underlying assumption seems to be that these people who wish to avoid exposure do not have the self-resolve to elect to install blocking software on their own computer.

As for how, exactly, manufacturers are supposed to block all “obscene” websites and, as Sevier puts it, “prostitution hubs,” he describes an incredibly laborious process. “We have to go piece by piece,” he said. “For example, is Pornhub obscene? I think every state statute would say yes it is. Would Backpage fit the definition of a prostitution hub? I think every reasonable person would say yes it does. You would have to go through like that one at a time.” That’s a whole lot of internet to police. He says it will depend, state by state, how the list of blocked URLs is compiled — in some cases, for example, it might be created by the state attorney general.

As for concerns he’s encountered about big government and personal freedom, he says, “If you throw a fish on the ground, the fish isn’t free. It’s only when you confine the fish to water that it can swim lightning fast, breathe, and even fly — and it’s kind of a truth about man, too.”