Utah Sen. Mike Lee introduces bill to ban sexual images entirely from the internet

Utah Sen. Mike Lee introduces bill to ban sexual images entirely from the internet
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah speaking at the 2012 Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, VirginiaSen. Mike Lee of Utah speaking at the 2012 Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, VirginiaSen. Mike Lee of Utah speaking at the 2012 Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, Virginia, Wikimedia Commons
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Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has introduced a bill that would redefine the federal definition of “obscenity” in order to target anyone who makes or transmits sexual images.

Opponents of the bill say that it would essentially ban pornography while also endangering sex workers and giving Republicans a strong weapon for targeting sexual education materials and LGBTQ-inclusive content.

On Wednesday, Lee introduced the Interstate Obscenity Definition Act (IODA), a bill that would remove the current federal definition of obscenity’s requirement of applying “contemporary adult community standards” when determining something’s obscenity. It would also remove a provision in the Communications Act that only banned the transmission of obscene materials when sent “with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another.”

“If passed, any American who knowingly ‘makes, creates, or solicits, and initiates the transmission of, any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent’ via the internet would be fined or imprisoned under federal law, as it is ‘a channel or instrumentality’ of interstate commerce,” The Mary Sue noted.

The adult industry news outlet XBIZ and the adult industry advocacy group Free Speech Coalition (FSC) both said Lee’s bill would essentially ban all online sexual content nationwide.

The broadly revised law would also harm any adults — including sex workers, queer content creators, and just horny individuals — who share or solicit any graphic sexual images or sexual writing online.

FSC’s Director of Public Affairs Mike Stabile told The Mary Sue, “The definition for obscenity is so broad that it would encompass almost all sexual speech now legal. But it would also criminalize fans who share content, or couples who sext or share intimate images on dating apps. People don’t think of themselves as ‘porn distributors,’ but under this bill, even retweeting adult content or DMing a dick pic is a criminal act. The headlines are about porn, but this bill criminalizes sex.”

While Lee’s bill has little chance of clearing the Democratically-controlled Senate, it’s just one of numerous bills seeking to restrict adult content and online sex work.

The FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) laws, passed in 2018 with bipartisan support, were also written so broadly as to cause many sex work forums and online personal sections to shut down in fear that they might be prosecuted for “facilitating sex trafficking.”

More recently, the Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act (SISTA) and the EARN IT Act would target online protections for platforms hosting online sexual content and sex work. Both bills have bipartisan support.

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