The Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas has reviewed House Bill 2266 filed by State Representative James White, and has serious concerns about its contents and its language. The bill is described this way: ‘Relating to requiring certain retailers to ensure that certain products sold or leased by the retailers contain a digital blocking capability that renders obscene material inaccessible; creating a criminal offense.’
This bill, if passed, would require any retailer of internet-accessible products operating in Texas to equip the devices with a mechanism to block obscene material, while declining to define ‘obscene’ except with a reference to the Penal Code. Byron Schirmbeck, State Coordinator for Texas Campaign for Liberty, points out that the relevant section of the code about obscenity was passed into law in the 1970’s, well before the internet changed the way we live, work, and play.
White’s HB2266 would take decisions about what we watch and where we go online out of our hands and allow corporations to choose what content we can access. That is completely unacceptable to freedom-loving Texans. Corporations would not necessarily need to have ill intent to act heavy-handedly about access, either. The mere logistical issues presented by this legislation would force companies to automate as much as possible, guaranteeing that many sites would be mislabeled and blocked or restricted based on limited information.
This is also the age of internet reputation warfare, in which people have their accounts reported and disabled for holding views that are unpopular with a portion of the population. We cannot allow corporations to determine which sites to block based on pressure that might be brought to bear on them. This bill would allow bad actors to weaponize government and aim it at people they don’t like; it allows online thugs to harm the reputations, livelihoods, and platforms of people with whom they disagree, merely by reporting them.
The bill purports to help fund entities in the fight against human trafficking. Human trafficking is a serious problem in this country, and one we should work hard to stop. This bill charges a ‘buy-out’ fee of $20 for consumers if they want the blocking mechanism removed, which is supposed to go directly to agencies, organizations, and offices to fight human trafficking. This sends mixed messages to Texans: ‘The state needs to block Texans from seeing obscene content, but for $20 and some paperwork, we’ll allow you to see anything you want. Oh, and we’ll fund programs fighting human trafficking with that money. We promise.’ Texans have heard those ‘dedicated fund’ promises before.
The power to choose, to decide for ourselves what we consume, shouldn’t be restricted by corporations with their own interests or political agendas in mind. The state should not give corporations that power over us. And the state should not be involved in creating new bureaucracies and dedicated funds on the backs of the victims of human trafficking. The risks of this legislation are too high for Texans to allow this bill to pass. Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas stands with Campaign For Liberty, Texas Liberty Foundation, and other liberty-minded Texans in opposing this bill, and we urge our friends and members to contact their legislators and express their concerns about the legislation.