Man who tried to wed laptop pushes anti-porn bill across U.S.

Legislation drew criticism from groups including the ACLU

By Michelle R. Smith
Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A man who tried to marry his laptop in a legal fight against same-sex marriage is promoting legislation across the country to require a filter to block pornography and human trafficking websites that would be lifted if a user pays $20.

The measure pushed by Chris Sevier has been described as the “Elizabeth Smart Law” after the girl who was kidnapped from her Utah home as a teenager in 2002. But Smart wants nothing to do with it, and has sent a cease-and-desist letter to demand her name be removed from any promotion of the proposal.

The legislation has drawn criticism from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an anti-pornography advocacy group. The center demanded last year that the Sevier stop claiming it supported his work.

Despite those issues, similar bills keep materializing in state legislatures.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which opposes the idea, has tracked about two dozen similar bills in 18 state legislatures this year, none of which have passed. A bill in Rhode Island was scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday.

Sevier and supporters say it would protect children and others by making pornography and sites that allow human trafficking harder to access.

Sevier said that he chose Smart’s name because she has spoken about the negative effects of pornography, including that pornography during her captivity “made my living hell worse.”

After being told by The Associated Press earlier this month that Smart’s lawyer was sending a cease-and-desist letter, Sevier said the name “Elizabeth Smart Law” was an “offhand name” that had been given to the legislation by lawmakers. The bill also is promoted as the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Act.

“Obviously, we’re not trying to hurt Elizabeth Smart, for god’s sake,” Sevier said. “We don’t really care what it’s called. We just want it to pass. And we’re going to see to it that it passes, and the law is on our side.”

A federal judge in Utah on March 16 threw out a lawsuit from Sevier that targeted gay marriage by arguing that he should be able to marry his laptop. Similar lawsuits in Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky have been dismissed.

Sevier was sentenced to probation after being found guilty in 2014 of harassment threats against country singer John Rich. Sevier previously told the AP that he didn’t do anything wrong, and that the case came after a variety of lawsuits between the two men.

The bills differ in some details but generally include requiring internet service providers, or those who sell internet-capable devices, to install a filter that screens out obscene material or sites that facilitate prostitution. The blocking can be lifted with a $20 payment. Both Republicans and Democrats have sponsored it.

Both the EFF and American Civil Liberties Union say the idea is unconstitutional, including because it would install a censorship filter onto everyone’s computer that would screen out lawful content.

“I am not quite sure whether legislators really fully understand the nanny state this bill would create,” said Dave Maass, of EFF. “Now what I find fascinating is I just don’t understand how (Sevier) is pulling this off, like how he’s convincing so many people to introduce this bill.”

In Rhode Island, Democratic Sen. Frank Ciccone, said in a news release that he sponsored the bill because children “have easy access to materials that no child should be viewing, such as pornography and other highly offensive or disturbing material.”

He maintained that his intent was to require that such filters be made available to parents who want them, and called the bill a “work-in-progress.”

Ciccone did not return requests for comment, but a Rhode Island Senate spokesman, Greg Pare, called it “a national bill” modeled after one in New Jersey. Similar legislation introduced in New Jersey has not been voted on.

Pare cited the website that Sevier is behind, which says at the top that the act is “referred to as the Elizabeth Smart Law.” A spokesman for Smart said she has nothing to do with it.

“Elizabeth is not connected with this organization,” spokes­man Chris Thomas told the AP. “There was absolutely no authorization to use her name.”

She had a lawyer send a cease-and-desist letter this month that tells the group to stop using her name “in any way,” Thomas said.

Sevier told the AP that he met with Smart’s father, Ed, in Utah and “he knows about it.”

Elizabeth Smart’s spokesman said that Ed Smart met in the past with a group pushing the idea, but he suggested his daughter send the letter.