Nearly five years after the US SESTA-FOSTA law led to the destruction of several online safe spaces and screening services for sex workers, yet another lawmaker is threatening to improve the lives of sex workers. And if this one passes Congress, it could completely change the way pornography exists on the Internet.
On Wednesday, Republican Senator Mike Lee (UT) introduced the Interstate Obscenity Definition Act in the Senate. According to a statement published by Lee’s office, the bill would “establish a national definition of obscenity that would apply to obscene content transmitted through international or international communications.” This would effectively strengthen federal laws targeting indecent material — and seriously hurt prostitutes and NSFW artists in the process.
How will IODA block porn?
If passed in its current form, the IODA would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to federally incorporate the terms “obscenity” and “obscenity” under a modified version of the US legal standard, Miller test. According to the Department of Justice, at the moment Miller test defines obscenities based on:
- That the average person, using the standards of today’s adult society, finds that the issue, taken as a whole, appeals to immoral interests (i.esensual, obscene, abnormal, unhealthy, humiliating, embarrassing, or gross interest in nudity, sex, or defecation);
- Whether the average person, using the standards of today’s adult society, finds the material to depict or describe sexual behavior in an offensive manner (i.e, final sexual acts, conventional or inverted, real or simulated, masturbation, defecation activities, exposure of indecent genitalia, or traumatic sexual abuse); again
- That a reasonable person finds that the story, taken as a whole, has no literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Under the new definition provided in the current IODA document, obscenity and obscene material can apply to various types of multimedia:
- taken as a whole, it induces a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or expulsion
- depicts, depicts, or represents real or simulated sexual acts or sexual contact, real or simulated normal or perverted sexual acts, or indecent displays of genitalia, with the intent to arouse, excite, or satisfy a person’s sexual desires. ; again
- taken as a whole, it has no literary, artistic, political, or scientific value
The bill removes the Miller testing guidelines on “social standards for modern adults,” a point of contention in obscenity cases, as legal experts have argued that social standards should be considered very different from local ones, according to The First Amendment Encyclopedia.
IODA bypasses this statutory clause entirely. If passed, any American who “makes, creates, or solicits, and initiates the transmission of any obscene, lewd, obscene, lewd, or obscene comment, solicitation, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication” over the Internet could be fined or imprisoned under of federal law, as it is a “channel or instrument” of interstate commerce.
Initially, the Communications Act simply prohibited the creation and dissemination of obscene material “with the intent to offend, harass, threaten, or harass another.” Lee’s office says dropping the phrase “strengthens the existing ban on obscenity.” This will also prevent the broadcast of adult content by other channels and facilities, such as highways and cars, respectively.
What will the IODA rule look like?
If IODA passes, adult industry news outlet XBIZ warns that the bill “will, in effect, ban all sexually explicit content online nationwide.” A group representing the sex trade and the adult industry Free Speech Coalition on Twitter the bill would “remove First Amendment protections for pornography, and effectively ban the distribution of adult material in the US.”
IODA, in other words, will serve as a major blow to prostitutes who create sexually explicit material, such as photos, videos, and sex messages. It can also hurt older artists who are trying to make a living by sharing, distributing, and selling pornographic content. The vague and uncertain nature of the bill’s wording opens up potential legal risks for advertising sexual services, and even discussing sexual matters online.
IODA will also target the creation and distribution of adult content that is privately shared across the internet, such as graphic images shared in IMs between loved ones, the dogs warn.
“IODA will immediately prosecute almost all physical sellers who share or sell content online. The definition of obscenity is so broad that it can include almost all sexual speech that is now legal. But it will also criminalize fans sharing content, or couples posting sex or sharing intimate photos on dating apps,” FSC Public Affairs Director. Mike Stabile he told Mary Sue. “People don’t think of themselves as ‘pornography distributors,’ but under this bill, even retweeting adult content or DMing a dick picture is a crime. The headlines are about sex, but this bill criminalizes sex.”
There is a long history of obscenity claims against disadvantaged Americans. Earlier, a Virginia Judge ordered local bookstores to pull two books from local store shelves under obscenity charges. One of the books was influential, by non-binary illustrator Maia Kobabe Gender Queerit is a popular target for the far right.
Stabile notices a pattern as well. “Attacks on sex workers and sex workers are closely linked to attacks on sex, health care, reproductive rights, book bans and digital privacy. IODA is part of a larger movement to push sex and sexuality into the closet,” she said. “They go after porn because they think people will be too afraid to protect it.” .”
IODA “has almost no chance of getting into this Congress,” Stabile told Mary Sue. But it’s not the first time we’ve seen Congress try to crack down on prostitutes and ban online pornography. In late 2020, the bipartisan Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act vowed to create a series of expensive anti-sexual exploitation programs that would not work within platforms that host sexual content online. That same year, the EARN IT Act was introduced, which threatens to create a series of Internet best practices that will ultimately reduce Section 230 protections for adult content and online sexual activity. This act was introduced again this year. Stabile similarly expects Lee to relaunch IODA next year.
IODA may not find much success in evaluating Internet pornography. But keep an eye on this bill anyway, and others like it. Steps are being taken to remove adult content from the Internet. And if even one of these bills passes, it could seriously harm some of the most vulnerable among us: prostitutes, counterfeiters, and anyone who engages in sex for a living.
“We cannot withdraw debts like these. As we saw with Dobbs, precedent means very little these days,” Stabile told The Mary Sue. “This is a time when prostitutes and groups like the FSC need those who consume adult content to stand up and join the fight.”
The Mary Sue has reached out to Lee for comment.
(Featured image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0))
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