No Time Is Ever the Right Time to Propose Censorship Legislation

State Rep. Lawrence Klemin, a Republican from Bismarck, requests that his proposed internet censorship legislation be withdrawn.

My Sunday newspaper column was about a collection of embarrassing incidents here at the dawn of the 2017 legislative session, among them the introduction (and subsequent withdrawal) of a bipartisan internet censorship bill which would have required a content filter for every internet capable device sold in our state.

The legislation – which would have branded such devices “pornography vending machines” – seemed to be self-evidently offensive to anyone concerned with 1st amendment freedoms. So I was a bit gobsmacked when I read the Fargo Forum’s editorial today.

On Mondays the paper does this “prairie roses” and “leafy spurge” thing, and a recipient of the former award this week was state Rep. Lawrence Klemin. The Bismarck Republican who introduced the anti-porn legislation.

“Technology has changed the way adults and children access information, and information that not so long ago was not easily available to children, today is,” the paper writes. “Rep. Klemin gets the bouquet for pressing the discussion, even if the timing for legislation is not right.”

The tech industry – from internet service providers to device manufacturers – would almost certainly have filed suit against this legislation had it passed on everything from 1st amendment to interstate commerce grounds.

I wonder when the editorial board would consider the “right time” for government censorship of the internet?

I suspect the paper might feel differently if we were talking about a filter for journalism.

Are they aware that the man behind this legislation is a crank? One who, even through this weekend, was harassing lawmakers via email with threats of litigation because his bill was withdrawn? I’d share the emails I’ve been forwarded by lawmakers but I’m afraid publishing them will only encourage further harassment.

Are they aware of the countless effective services which can be and are deployed to appropriately filter internet content at schools, public libraries, businesses, and in private homes?

Are they aware of the threat posed to internet freedom by creating a government content filter?

Are they aware of the enormous costs this sort of legislation might create for taxpayers? Think of the army of bureaucrats the state would have to deploy to ensure that devices sold here have the appropriate filters, not to mention the can of worms that would be deciding which content on the vast, vast internet is worthy of filtering.

How about the potential legal costs for the state? The tech industry – from internet service providers to device manufacturers – would almost certainly have filed suit against this legislation had it passed on everything from 1st amendment to interstate commerce grounds.

The Forum has often railed against pro-life legislation because of the legal costs of defending it once enacted (costs which, in reality, have always been relatively modest). Yet here the paper ignores that potential side effect.

I hope the Forum editorial board is ignorant of these issues. Because I would hate to think that they’re aware of these issues and yet were supportive of the legislation anyway.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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