The inner workings of a smartphone representing the manufacturing of smart devices
October 22, 2019

Model Legislation Would Put Responsibility on Manufacturers to Make Phones Safer for Kids

Cars must have seatbelts, pill bottles must have child-safe caps, and cigarettes must have warning labels and cannot be sold to children. But for some reason virtually every pre-teen in America is given a smartphone–a device capable of communicating with people across the globe, accessing virtually any form of information, and taking and sending photos and videos–with virtually zero inherent safety measures.

There are no warning labels or safety instructions for children. There are no default settings oriented toward child safety and, as a result, parents are left behind the curve and struggling to keep their kids safe. Technology is powerful and in today’s world it is highly accessible. Even to children. Which also means that it is potentially very dangerous.

In answer to this problem, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) has developed model legislation that would require mobile phone and smart device manufacturers to install active filtering software on all of the devices they produce and require sellers to verify and ensure that each device they sell has this active filtering software in place. This approach is designed to allow filters to be easily removed by adults but difficult to circumvent by children. This puts the burden on manufacturers and retailers to ensure that the products they are creating and selling are as safe as possible for children.

It is time for the manufacturers of smart devices to acknowledge the very serious dangers and risks their products can pose to children and to take the steps necessary to make them safer. Click To Tweet

Our model legislation seeks to protect children while not overburdening Free Speech. We hope to accomplish this by making it very easy for adults to modify or completely remove filters using a five-to-seven digit code provided to them at the time of purchase. Parents shall also be capable of modifying and removing filter settings for their children at their own discretion. This serves two important purposes. First, it ensures that adults are not restricted to only that content which is appropriate for children. And second, it empowers parents to decide what is safe and appropriate for their children to access online. Additionally, as the filters and safety settings are established at the time of manufacture, as the default setting, they are much more effective at blocking harmful material that can enter the phone through both cellular and WiFi Internet access. This also makes them more difficult to circumvent by tech-savvy children.

This approach helps solve the tech problems and limitations of current filtering options available to parents. Such options include applications that can be downloaded after the devices have been purchased and which can oftentimes be circumvented easily, or filtering services provided by either the Internet Service Provider (ISP) of the cell phone or the family’s home wireless Internet that are insufficient because they are limited to their sphere of control. Smartphone ISPs have no ability to block anything that enters the phone through an alternate Internet source–such as public WiFi at a coffee shop–and home Internet filtering services cannot block anything accessed through the smartphone’s cellular data network. By placing Internet filtering requirements at the manufacturer level, the devices themselves will be capable of filtering harmful content as they move in and out of different Internet networks.

Additionally, the burden on manufacturers is slight. Apple and Android, for example, already preload many default settings and applications at the manufacturer level and Apple recently rolled out extensive parental control options with their latest version of iOS. Under our legislation they would merely need to activate this type of technology as the default setting and allow adult customers and parents to modify or remove them with a code.

Countless children have suffered from exposure to hardcore pornography on their Internet-enabled devices. The most violent, degrading, and graphic pornography imaginable is available instantly and only a few googled terms away on every smartphone. It is impossible for parents to manage the overwhelming amount of toxic material that can enter their children’s phones and the various ways they can access it. Additionally, the potential harms to children go beyond pornography exposure to include anything from grooming and sexual harassment by adults online to recruitment into sex trafficking via social media. These risks are inherent to any child using an Internet-capable device and children are not capable of protecting themselves from the many ways they can be harmed and preyed upon online.

It is time for the manufacturers of such products to acknowledge the very serious dangers and risks their products can pose to children and to take the steps necessary to make them safer. Parents should not have to choose between denying their children access to technology or exposing them to violent hardcore pornography.

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Dani Pinter, Esq.

Senior Legal Counsel for the NCOSE Law Center

Dani Pinter, Esq. serves as Legal Counsel for NCOSE and its Law Center. In this role, she drafts and consults on state legislation to help unravel the complex web of sexual exploitation. Dani also serves as a voice for human dignity in precedent-setting legal cases by authoring legal briefs and providing research and advice to attorneys and will launch litigation on behalf of victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Dani speaks regularly on a variety of exploitation topics, with a special focus protecting youth in a digital age and on legal solutions to curb the demand for prostituted and sex trafficked individuals.

Dani Pinter originally joined the NCOSE Law Center at its inception in August of 2015. Dani was instrumental in reinvigorating the law center and traveled the country building relationships and raising awareness. Notably, she drafted the first piece of legislation recognizing the public health impacts of  pornography. This innovative piece of legislation has since been adopted in more than a dozen states. Dani also authored a key legal brief in a case involving a child predator who claimed a constitutional right to find children online and talk to them about sex in an arousing and exploitive manner. Her legal brief helped convince the Georgia Supreme Court to rule against the child predator and shut down the agenda of pro-child exploitation forces to go state by state trying to toss out such laws.

In 2016. Dani moved back to her home state of Florida to start a family and there joined the State of Florida’s Department of Children and Families as a Senior Attorney in Children’s Legal Services. In that role, Dani litigated cases involving child abuse, abandonment, and neglect. She worked tirelessly to serve the children and families in need in her home state. During this time, Dani saw first-hand the devastation that sexual abuse inflicts on children and families and the cycle of abuse and trauma it creates.

Throughout her time with Children’s Legal Services, Dani brought the knowledge she gained from NCOSE to every one of her cases. She could not help but note the policy changes and education that were needed in this field. So, when an opportunity to work with NCOSE again arose – Dani seized it without hesitation. Dani rejoined the NCOSE law center in 2019 as Legal Counsel.

Dani has always had a passion for human rights issues especially those affecting women and children. This passion is what led her to Regent University School of Law. Upon acceptance, Dani received the Wilberforce Award, a full academic scholarship for those with human rights interests. While at Regent, Dani was in the Honors Program, a member of the Moot Court Board, the Journal of Global Justice and Public Policy, and the Student Bar Association. During her studies Dani interned with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.

Prior to law school Dani worked as a government relations intern for multiple DC policy organizations and graduated from the University of Central Florida with dual degrees in Psychology and Marketing.

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