Video: Taxing internet porn

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A startling new study shows the greatest consumer of online pornography are children between the ages of 12 and 17.

A proposed bill in Washington could make it harder for under-age kids to view adult websites by adding a 25 percent tax. Supporters hope it will deter underage viewers as well as add additional security to pornographic websites.

While you would be hard-pressed to find someone in favor of allowing children to view porn, the greater issue lies in how the tax would affect the definition of pornography and how could it change adult freedoms.  Democratic Senator and bill co-sponsor Debbie Stabenow of Michigan discussed both sides of the issue on Wednesday during 'The Situation.'

CARLSON: As I understand it, this will tax monthly memberships to porn sites.  I don’t think most children have monthly memberships, because most kids don’t have credit cards.  So, how is this going to protect kids? 

DEBBIE STABENOW, MICHIGAN SENATOR AND BILL CO-SPONSOR: First of all, it does three things. It would require that children have to verify that they’re at least 18 years of age, in other words, not be children, to get onto adult pornography sites.  Pornography sites right now, I should mention, according to a study done by the Third Way, an independent group, says that the fastest-growing consumers on pornography sites are children ages 12 to 17.  It’s really astounding.  It’s very concerning to me as a parent, as well as a senator. 

CARLSON:  But does this address the question of free porn?  I mean, there’s a lot of free pornographic images floating around on the web.  And it seems to me, those would be the ones that children go to.

STABENOW:  Well, first of all, there’s a lot of free pornography.  But this is also a $12 billion industry.  It’s more than ABC, CBS and NBC combined.  I mean, this is a huge industry. 

We want to make sure children cannot get on those free sites, that you have to verify, which is very easy to do — the technology is there.  It’s done every day on websites.  We want to make sure you have to be at least 18.  And then we want to make sure that, if there are dollars being spent, if you’re paying to go on to a site and so on, that you’re paying into a fund, rather than the taxpayers paying for it, that will cover law enforcement costs.  Right now, law enforcement, taxpayers, are spending more than $500 million a year to monitor those sites, to protect children against pornography, child pornography, those that are going after our children and victimizing them.  And I think those who use porno sites ought to be paying into that fund. 

CARLSON:  Who decides what is porn?  I mean, are you going to establish a commission to sit and look at the sites and decide what is pornographic and what is not?

STABENOW:  Not at all.  No, absolutely there — it’s already there.  They already essentially sign up as a pornography site.  They’re already regulated.  They already are in a situation where they say that they voluntarily make sure that someone has to be 18 to get on their site.  But, of course, that’s not happening. 

CARLSON:  But who makes the distinction between pornography and, say, art or self-described art? 

STABENOW:  We’re not talking about getting into any of that.  These are businesses that have already registered as businesses. 

CARLSON:  OK.  But, at some point, somebody is going to need to make a hard determination.

STABENOW:  Not at all. We’re talking about somebody who says, I’m selling pornography.  I have a pornography site.  I’m signing up as a business.  And, right now, we know that children ages 12 to 17 are the fastest consumers of those sites. 

CARLSON:  Right.  But I support keeping online porn away from children.  Very much including my own.  However, here’s the problem, it seems to me.  As soon as you tax it, then you give website operators a real incentive not to declare themselves pornographers, right?  You have an incentive for these people wanting to escape the tax to call themselves artists and to call porn art.  So, at some point, you are going to have to decide.  You’re going to have to regulate this even more.  And somebody from the government is going to have to decide what is porn and what is not.  Are you prepared for that? 

STABENOW:  Well, first of all, child pornography is already illegal. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

STABENOW:  In fact, when I was in the state of Michigan, I helped author the legislation to make it a felony. 

Right now, we are ready.  Obscene literature is not what we’re talking about here.  We’re talking about pornography that is on sites that are already regulated as pornography sites.  This is not an issue of us deciding what it is or what it isn’t.  These are sites that are already set up.  Frankly, I find it absolutely outrageous that, if you’ve got a 12-year-old doing their homework, they want to find out about the White House and they go White House.com, instead of White House.gov, they get a porno site. 

CARLSON:  Well, absolutely.  I don’t think there’s any question.  It’s a real concern for people with small children.

STABENOW:  Right. 

CARLSON:  Are you concerned, though, that, increasingly, government lives off the addictions of the population?  The government taxes smoking, taxes drinking, taxes gambling, and now taxing pornography.  Does it make you uncomfortable to think government revenues come from porn? 

STABENOW:  Well, what I’m concerned about is the fact that our children are getting onto these sites.  This is the wrong direction for our communities, for our society.  I want to empower parents as well to be able to do something about that. The tax that we’re talking about on pornography is about the same as the tax on cigarettes in Michigan. 

CARLSON:  But, Senator, finally, wouldn’t it just be a lot simpler without — you wouldn’t even need to impose a tax.  You wouldn’t have to go through all this rigmarole.  Why not just pass a federal law making it illegal to display pornography on the Internet unless you verify the age of the people viewing it? 

STABENOW: Essentially, that’s what we’re doing.  I mean, obviously, for adults, it becomes an issue of free speech as adults to make choices.  But, essentially, what we’re talking about in our bill is what you said, in that every porno site would have to have a mechanism readily available now, used by credit card companies, used by a lot of purchasers on the Internet, to verify that someone is 18 before they could get into the site. To me, it’s common sense.  I mean, it’s really like being carded before — it’s the electronic version of being carded.  I think it makes sense.  Just as an 11-year-old can’t walk into a drug store and buy a pornography magazine right now, we don’t want them to be able to go to the Internet and to be able to do that.  If you verify that someone is 18 or older...

CARLSON:  Yes. 

STABENOW:  I think it’s just common sense. 

CARLSON:  Well, you’re going to have a lot of very unhappy 14-year-old boys.  But none of them can vote for you anyway, so I guess you don’t mind.

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