When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I bought a cassette tape — Ray Stevens’ Greatest Hits Volume I — and brought it home. For you younger readers, back in those days, if you wanted to listen to a song or songs that weren’t on the radio, you actually had to buy the album. Albums came in a small box with fragile magnetic tape or on a disc called a record, and you needed special equipment to listen to either. They were very difficult times, indeed.
That night, I was surprised when my parents opted to turn off the evening news and listen to every word on my new album over dinner.
It was later that I realized they weren’t just listening for the sheer entertainment value of “It’s Me Again, Margaret” about a horny man’s crank calls from a payphone. In time, they figured out it’s a wholesome album with mostly silly music. But they needed to find out for themselves.
They just cared about what I was hearing. And subtle though it was, the lesson I learned was that that’s what parents do. They’re supposed to care what music their kids play, what books they read, or what TV shows and movies they watch as much as they care about who their kids’ friends are.
When I had children, I knew what to do with my kids because I learned it from my parents. We didn’t have to worry about computers in my youth, but I knew it was my parental responsibility to monitor what my kids consumed and who they spoke to on the Internet. And because she saw me doing this, my daughter knows to do the same with her daughter.
My story isn't unusual. Maybe you remember a time when your mom or dad told you some music or some content online wasn’t appropriate. Or that you couldn’t use certain websites or phone apps. Or maybe you’re the parent deciding what content is acceptable and what’s not.
But what if you didn’t? What if the government did that for you by ordering that mobile devices automatically filter out filth? What if that kind of technology existed in the 1980s, and my parents were told that, no matter what, my Walkman could never play a song that was objectionable?
For starters, the central premise of this column wouldn’t exist, and I’d get to my point faster. But more importantly, I’d have one less story to tell about the time my parents showed me they loved me by caring about what I was hearing, one less memory of a time we spent together listening to music over dinner, and one less lesson from my youth to pass on to my kids.
I'd also be more inclined to play the music that had been hidden away from me. I would find a way, and I'd do it without my parents having a worry in the world that I'd make it past the filter.
This is one of several reasons Senate Bill 1057 is concerning. It would require a default “harmful content” filter installed and activated on every smartphone or tablet turned on in the state of Idaho after 2024. The filter would supposedly prevent material that could be construed under state law as being harmful to minors from being downloaded unless the safeguards are overridden by a parent every time the device is turned on.
The well-meaning intention behind the bill is that there’s too much pornography on the Internet, and so therefore, in the interest of children’s mental health, the government needs to step in and order Apple, Samsung, and other smartphone makers to set their devices safe at startup for kids.
Maybe a computer algorithm can seem to replace a parent’s persistence in watching over their children. But it won’t teach youngsters the difference between good choices and bad, and it won’t take the time to explain why something is good or why another thing is evil, why some websites or apps are intellectually nourishing or why others ought to be avoided.
At a time when kids are arguably spending too much time on phones and tablets, this law would lure parents into a false sense of security that everything their kids are doing on their devices is safe. As with other software, it won't be long until kids find a way past the government-required safeguards, and then they're accessing the same filth online, wholly without any parental awareness.
Moreover, to keep bad content at bay, device manufacturers are necessarily going to have to scan and monitor apps, messengers, and email, all at the direction of the government. That is a scary level of privacy invasion at the hands of government with nothing to stop that data from being scooped by various agencies. Equally frightening is the fact that someone, somewhere, is going to have to track who has chosen to opt out of using the filter — you would likely need to provide proof you're older than 18 — and nothing prevents the government from demanding that list and its details from manufacturers.
Every single time government makes the private sector gather data, the data finds its way into the hands of government. And if you think government won't use this particular data set against innocent civilians, then you haven't been paying attention to how government works.
Kids need more parental involvement in their lives and more hard conversations about the difference between right and wrong, not less. Laws that demand others take on the responsibility of parents are bound to fail because they always do. And this particular law comes with the added loss of privacy.
“But, Wayne,” the naysayers will protest, “don’t conservatives support keeping pornography out of public libraries? Isn’t this the same?” Public libraries shouldn’t be using public money to buy pornography. That’s the key difference.
“And what of legislation barring kids from ‘transgender’ procedures? Isn’t that government interference with families?” No, that’s the proper role of government, to bar acts that are a definitive attack against people or property, which is what those procedures represent. It’s no different than a law on murder, rape, or robbery.
It’s also interesting to note that a secondary effect of this legislation is that while it would filter out “pornography,” kids would still be able to access “trans” propaganda featuring girls posing in their chest binders and boys modeling dresses. In other words, this bill creates a mechanism to amplify anything that isn’t restricted as “porn.” And parents might not be watching because they’ve been led to believe they’re OK.
The call to protect kids is correct. Our kids are being exposed to really dark, twisted content online. It’s up to parents to parent. Install a porn filter on your device if you want. That is your choice. I wouldn't, for the reason I mention.
Senate Bill 1057 uses coercion to protect kids instead of strengthening the bond between parents and children. It gets in the way of that relationship, and puts our children's privacy at risk. That makes it one of the more dangerous proposals facing lawmakers this legislative session.