back to article Rhode Island proposes $20 porn tax. Er, haven't we heard this before?

Legislators in Rhode Island have come up with a novel way to deal with online pornography: require ISPs to block sexual content and then require consumers to pay a $20 "digital access fee" if they want to see smut. The proposal – Senate Bill S 2584 [PDF] - has caused an explosive debate with First Amendment rights advocates …

  1. DougS Silver badge

    Offensive content

    That's pretty broad - the bill doesn't limit it to sexual content so it could be anything. A picture of a muslim praying, an ad for guns, an article that says nice things about Hillary Clinton, Trump's official re-election site.

    Some people might think a picture of a woman in a bikini is offensive, others might not find a picture of people having sex offensive. This would get tied up on court for years and has no chance of ever being enforced in the unlikely event a state like Maine passes it. I could see Utah or Alabama passing something like this, but it has no chance in Maine.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Offensive content

      That would not pass in Utah. They love their porn too much... They just keep it hidden. Like good morons. I grew up behind the the Zion Curtain. So I know first hand the hypocrisy of this kind of law. Example, Utah state liquor laws. Where you can buy beer in the gas station, but if you want a bottle of wine you have to purchase it from a state owned liquor agency store. By the way back in 2009, Utah led the US in consumption of porn. I don't keep up with these stats but I doubt it has changed much. I moved to Nevada, where prostitution is "legal". Except for counties with more than 200k people. Which is most of Nevada, except Clark and Washoe counties, so pretty much any where that is not Vegas or Reno. Oh and Unlike Utah, in Nevada I can get beer and pizza in the same restaurant.

      1. TheRealRoland

        Re: Offensive content

        >They just keep it hidden. Like good morons.

        I like it. I had to read it twice to make sure i did not read what i wanted it to be. Can't imagine what the bad kind will do...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That's pretty broad

      A picture of a muslim praying, an ad for guns, an article that says nice things about Hillary Clinton, Trump's official re-election site.

      And now, because of we, El Reg :-)

  2. DCFusor Silver badge

    Keep digging

    And follow the money - perhaps look one step behind whoever is bringing these bills to committee in the first place.

    Last time this kind of silliness was in the air:

    I live in Virginia. When the lottery bill passed over lots of objections, they promised to put the huge profits into the school system, and for a little while, they did - enough to have a couple advertisements with pictures of big checks (while of course lawmakers effectively removed other funding to match).

    Now they don't even pretend, the money goes into the general fund, but no one got voted out for raising taxes. Might this be the same deal all over again?

    1. midcapwarrior

      Re: Keep digging

      A little confused?

      Are you saying the lottery is a tax?

      I'd agree if you mean it's a tax on those who can't do the math on the minimal odds of winning.

      1. Swarthy Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Keep digging

        What I believe the OP is saying is that they promised Lottery funds would go to Schools/education, and it did for a time (however, they sneakily cut funding to match). After that time, when no-one was looking, they moved the money from schools to the General Fund, achieving the same end (More money for Gov't) without the risks involved with actually raising taxes.

        And I wouldn't quote me on this, but the sneaky cuts to schools to "balance" the extra lottery money probably remained after the lotto money got diverted, so a double-raise in General Funding, without raising any voter hackles.

      2. Swarthy Silver badge

        Re: Keep digging

        Also, as a tax the Lottery is more a Tax on Optimists than it is a tax on those bad at math.

  3. Dr. Ellen

    This would be good advertising for VPNs.

    1. K Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      My thoughts exactly... But when they suddenly see an inexplicable increase in VPN and Proxy traffic, I bet they'll blame some catastrophe on porn, which they'll use to justify even more intrusive measures.

      Personally, I'd rather pay $40 to a VPN service, just because

      1) I can't stand self righteous and sanctimonious luddites who dictate how others should live

      2) If somebody's palm is going to get greased with my money, then I'll decide the terms of it

      Paris - Because she's a patron of the arts!

      1. Mitoo Bobsworth

        "I bet they'll blame some catastrophe on porn, "

        I'm not sure an outbreak of people jerking themselves to death with their right hand is going to make for politically gainful headlines.

        On the other hand, this is America...

        1. The Nazz Silver badge

          re M Bobsworth

          Crikey, how much porn does someone need to watch to jerk themselves to death?

          I'm still here.

          Plus, i'm all for equality, give the left handers a mention.

          Ahem, posting verbatim on behalf of a friend.

          It's always about raising funds, can't help but think the authorities, the all privacy invading authorities would be better off just simply putting a stop to the trafficking. Particularly if it's on the scale as some would have us believe.

          Hmmm, my friend is just asking in any event, how long would it take to download and fill a 1TB disk?

          1. earl grey Silver badge
            Facepalm

            download and fill a 1TB disk?

            I heard from a friend that it takes about an hour.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But if the ISP allows use of any VPNs then they can be fined the $500 for every porn image the investigator downloads over a VPN.

      ISPs would be required to block VPNs for anyone who hadn't paid the porn tax.

      (Of course, this isn't spelled out in the bill, but it's certainly implied).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "But if the ISP allows use of any VPNs then they can be fined the $500 for every porn image the investigator downloads over a VPN.

        ISPs would be required to block VPNs for anyone who hadn't paid the porn tax.

        (Of course, this isn't spelled out in the bill, but it's certainly implied)."

        Except that can now affect those companies who uses VPNs for normal business access, who could sue the ISPs or terminate their business contract for another. This is basically opening a can of worms.

        1. toejam13

          This is basically opening a can of worms.

          That's an understatement. Many people with corporate laptops and smartphones that tunnel back to the office often switch between fixed wired and mobile wireless ISPs. How is that handled? Is the fee per person, per ISP, per account, or per source address? I imagine that a business with thousands of Blackberries tunneling home would be upset if they had to pay a fee per device to cover their wireless service.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. macjules Silver badge

    Pay to watch paedophilic porn?

    Are they really saying ‘Pay a $20 digital access fee to bypass controls and you can watch child pornography‘?

    That is extremely sick, if it is true.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pay to watch paedophilic porn?

      No, they're saying "Pay a $20 digital access fee to bypass some of the controls and you can watch normal, legal pornography"

      1. macjules Silver badge

        Re: Pay to watch paedophilic porn?

        Read the article:

        Dan Johnson proposed that ISPs block "obscenity, child pornography, revenge pornography, and prostitution" but allow such blocks to be lifted if Kentuckians paid a $20 fee to have the block lifted

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: Pay to watch paedophilic porn?

          So which c**t decides what the f**k is obscene then? And who died and made them Prince of f**king good taste?

          - channelling my inner Malcolm Tucker

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Pay to watch paedophilic porn?

        Is the pronography on my computer disabled?

        No you pervert it's just regular porn !

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blocking "offensive content" is impossible.

    The key problem is that perfectly blocking "offensive content" is impossible. Some stuff will always slip through. And it's mixed with other content in ways ISPs can't separate out. E.g. some of the images on Wikipedia are probably "offensive content", and Wikipedia is served over HTTPS so blocking individual pages is no longer possible, so either they block all of Wikipedia or pay fines.

    So either ISPs require all their subscribers to sign up and pay the $20/quarter fee, or ISPs pay lots of $500 fines for allowing perfectly legal pornography through their systems.

    Also, once the system is established then of course rates will rise in future...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Blocking "offensive content" is impossible.

      so either they block all of Wikipedia or pay fines.

      Project Gutenberg has just done this with Germany.

      German law bans Nazi books, PG doesn't want to go through its content and decide which books to block - and open the can of worms of every city council in every country in the world having its own list - so it blocked access to the whole project from Germany.

      I can see a few US 'news' outlets being happy if wikipedia was blocked

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Yet Another Anonymous coward, 7 Mar 2018

        > Project Gutenberg has just done this with Germany.

        Except, you know, they haven't - I have just successfully accessed several books from a German IP address. I did get an "IP blocked" page when I first tried to connect to the German main page but the ones in English, French and Portugese all work fine, and when at the end I reloaded the German one it worked too.

        1. Czrly

          Re: @Yet Another Anonymous coward, 7 Mar 2018

          Actually, they have. But, it should be noted that they declare that they are blocking the content "until the issue is resolved during appeal" which is the proper and correct way of dealing with the law: first you follow the law, as it is, now, then you contest to change it.

          I'm actually in Nuremburg and tried to search for „Mein Kampf“ from P.G. and I received the following message before I even received a search-results page: "A Court in Germany ordered that access to certain items in the Project Gutenberg collection are blocked from Germany. Project Gutenberg believes the Court has no jurisdiction over the matter, but until the issue is resolved during appeal, it will comply."

          1. iron Silver badge

            @Czrly

            Blocking 'Mein Kampf' is not the same thing as blocking the whole Gutenberg catalog and is perfectly understandable since it is illegal in your juristiction.

      2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: Blocking "offensive content" is impossible.

        They're not blocking Nazi books on PG, just ones by authors who died too recently for their work to be considered public domain under German law.

  6. BusyPoorDad

    Dan Johnson of KY

    proposed the porn tax, then was accused of sexual assault, further accusations of sexual relations with a minor. He then, after denying any of it being true, went and killed himself on the side of a road near where his church is. (yeah, he was a minister).

    His wife ran to take his place but lost by 60+% of the vote.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Dan Johnson of KY

      Have you ever noticed that those who scream the loudest about such things as "porn", "gambling", "drinking", assorted other "vices" are usually guilty of engaging in those vices?

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Dan Johnson of KY

        Perhaps they want to see them banned because they blame the availability of porn (alcohol, name your vice...) for their problems instead of themselves.

    2. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      wow

      I've just looked this guy up on Wikipedia and to describe him as colourful is the understatement of the month.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: wow

        I mistook him for "Don Johnson" and got confused -- I thought he was in favor of most porn and vices (esp. in Miami).

      2. rjmx
        Pint

        Re: wow

        From the Wikipedia article:

        "The Lexington Herald-Leader described Johnson's nondenominational Heart of Fire church as "part evangelical church, part motorcycle bar"

        Sigh.

        1. BusyPoorDad

          Re: wow

          Providing EMS in the area of his church is interesting. People "over come by the spirt" left laying on the floor while having seizures for 15 to 20 min before anyone bothers to call 911.

          I was so glad I did not live in his district so I did not have to see his name on the ballot.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: wow

          "part evangelical church, part motorcycle bar"

          Perhaps the solution to the C of E's declining attendance ?

  7. ST Silver badge
    Terminator

    This is why Net Neutrality was repealed

    and it is just the beginning.

    At first, wrap the hypocrisy in a noble cause package. $20/quarter to watch porn and fight child trafficking.

    People who watch porn are bad, corrupt sinners. They will burn in hell forever and they deserve it. People who don't watch porn are pious and go to heaven, where they will listen to flute + harp music forever. And float on clouds.

    Next year: $15/month to access Facebook.

    Six months after that: $15/month to access Google. For an extra $10/month, it includes YouTube. Sold separately, it's $15/month for Google and $15/month for YouTube.

    Did I forget to mention the Amazon Prime Video fee for $25.99/month?

    Or, you can subscribe to our all-in-one comprehensive media package for $199.99/month. On top of your $249.99/month crap ISP subscription.

    Later, rinse, repeat.

    Make the Internet Great Again. Freedom has been restored.

    You were warned.

    1. deadlockvictim Silver badge

      One can only dream...

      ST» Next year: $15/month to access Facebook.

      Six months after that: $15/month to access Google. For an extra $10/month, it includes YouTube. Sold separately, it's $15/month for Google and $15/month for YouTube.

      Did I forget to mention the Amazon Prime Video fee for $25.99/month?

      Or, you can subscribe to our all-in-one comprehensive media package for $199.99/month. On top of your $249.99/month crap ISP subscription.

      Later, rinse, repeat.

      Make the Internet Great Again. Freedom has been restored.

      That would be super!

      There could be no better way to kill off Facebook, Google & Amazon than by charging an access fee to their services.

      Why do you think that these companies collect all of our data so? It is the way to make most money from us. We will never pay them in cash, so we pay them with our identites instead.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One can only dream...

        There could be no better way to kill off Facebook, Google & Amazon than by charging an access fee to their services.

        You underestimate the power of addiction.

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge
          Angel

          Re: One can only dream...

          Exactly, sin taxes just like cigarettes and alcohol to be able to spend lavishly on our own pet projects help pay for the costs of getting these folks the rehabilitation and counseling they need.

  8. DNTP

    I'd rather pay $20 a month for a VPN

    Than pay $20 once to support this stupid, stupid idea.

    Or, like, use Tor or something. How do you even decide what is obscene in the first place, outside stuff like underage content? Are feet pornography? Pictures of nuns? Stories about being trapped in an elevator with a hot hot older woman from management and being too scared to flirt properly?

    Are ASCII boobs porn? You know, the ones you make with a () two . and a Y in the middle? How about the letter 8 followed by an exuberant number of = and then a capital D? In high school this was considered porn, both because we were very lonely and that they suspended people for typing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are ASCII boobs porn?

      You know, the ones you make with a () two . and a Y in the middle?

      ()Y.. ? Hmmmm. In a pinch that'll do.

      1. DNTP

        Re: ()Y..

        It's ( . Y . )

        Oh crap, did I just get baited into getting The Reg blocked in RI?

    2. phuzz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: I'd rather pay $20 a month for a VPN

      Before you resort to ASCII boobs, don't forget that Wikipedia has images of many artworks, much of which contains naked people. But that's ok because this is art and definitely not porn.

      Even if they blocked all the art on Wikipedia, there's still the image of the plaque on the Pioneer probes which you can find on the NASA website (ie an official US government website) which has a picture of naked people on it.

      It's almost like the definition of porn is complicated.

  9. veti Silver badge

    No evidence of conspiracy

    This looks to me more like routine pack behaviour by legislators. Someone in Rhode Island read up on the proposal from Kentucky, and thought "Hey, that's a good idea!"

    Nobody much cares if the proposals pass: their sole purpose is to let the legislators grandstand and fundraise for a few weeks, then go back to their voters with a tale of having valiantly tried to stand up For The Children.

  10. Denarius Silver badge
    Unhappy

    coming to Oz real soon now

    because every stupid Merkin idea appeals to the power grabbing ideals of the snoops, do-gooer bureaucrats and cartoon characters we have as ministers of the crown {S}

  11. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Coat

    Twenty dollars for porn?

    They must be hard up...

    ---> the grubby one, obviously...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad Ideas in the USA???

    Well, the place is full of them

    Electing the current POTUS was a bad idea but that didn't stop them.

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Bad Ideas in the USA???

      It's beginning to seem like my half dozen American friends are the only people in the country that aren't bat-shit crazy.

    2. Carpet Deal 'em
      Mushroom

      Re: Bad Ideas in the USA???

      Let's stop and remember Hillary for a moment:

      - She didn't campaign in Wisconsin

      - She lied about where she was on 9/11

      - She actively called for people to lose their jobs in an underperforming economy

      - She advocated war with Russia

      - She couldn't even exploit the "woman card" thing right

      In other words, just about everybody else running(except Jeb) would've been better. But after they screwed Bernie over, the only candidate left was Trump.

  13. Crystaljuggler

    Looks like it's this guy: https://www.thedailybeast.com/porn-filter-campaigner-has-been-convicted-of-harassment-and-assault

  14. gnarlymarley
    WTF?

    This reminds me of a time where the lines blurred on what is actually porn. Many years ago, school firewalls blocked online encyclopedias because they apparently had the human body in them. Yet they did not block access to the paper versions of the books with the same information. False positives and false negatives will always happen as computers are as perfect as the humans that programmed them. Now, unblocking "no later than five days" could mean that a website stays blocked until after a school kid turns in their paper. And what happens when content changes on a website within seconds? Something could be unblocked because it shows no porn and then very quickly gets porn put on it later. Sometimes I wonder about people and their "great ideas".

  15. Anonymous Noel Coward
    Big Brother

    Could be worse...

    They could be blocking all porn sites worldwide like the UK will fail to do.

  16. Pat Harkin

    So, they're saying "We're against free porn...

    ...but we're happy to sell it"?

  17. handleoclast Silver badge

    Missing /s in article

    and second, it is never going to pass in any of the larger US states. Because it is, of course, a terrible idea.

    Hahahahahahahahahaha. But you really should have included "/s" for those unfamiliar with the dire legislation passed in various blue states.

  18. Voidstorm
    Holmes

    With a Critical Eye...

    When you look at the finances, a huge amount of US Federal funding goes to NGOs concerning the Trafficking/Obscenity/Sex work "Issue".

    It reeks of political bullshit, and the pearl-cluching brigade. The apparent "War on Whores" is a votewinner. That makes the whole Cashcow/Votes/Party Politics highy suspect in my view.

    Having had a look into the actual facts of the situation, what I found myself (don't take my word for it, go see for yourself, fellow critical thinker) looks like the following.

    The prevalence of the "issue" is massively overstated by said NGOs because othewise the federal dosh flow gravy train dries up (FBI : hundreds of actual trafficking cases. NGOs : We say there are Hundreds of thousands. So, The facts are three orders of magnitude lower than the rhetoric. I smell corporate bullshit).

    I believe the FBI : and those cases are indeed heinous. But the NGOs are on a cash cow which critically depends on overstating the case vastly, no doubt.

    Then there is the "Trafficking" laws that are so open to abuse that a person can be accused of trafficking themselves. WTF?

    The good old United (police) States of America. Yikes.

  19. Not also known as SC

    Did I read this right?

    And as it did in December when Kentucky lawmaker Dan Johnson proposed that ISPs block "obscenity, child pornography, revenge pornography, and prostitution" but allow such blocks to be lifted if Kentuckians paid a $20 fee to have the block lifted.

    So if Kentuckians pay $20 they are allowed to watch child pornography?

  20. David Roberts Silver badge
    Facepalm

    20$ for kiddie porn?

    American Express?

    That'll do nicely.

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