December 30, 2004 4:00 AM PST
XXX, on a small screen near you
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predicted, once it becomes easily available.
"I don't know that there's any way to control that," said Whitmore, who offers etiquette training to business executives at her Protocol School in Palm Beach, Fla. "People need to be mature and consider how other people are going react. But some people are probably going to find this entertaining and use it at the wrong time."
Although rare, incidents of unwanted porn viewing have already been registered over the use of in-car DVD players, and some state and local governments have responded with local statutes banning displays of obscene movies in automobiles.
In February, a man was arrested in Schenectady, N.Y., for publicly displaying offensive material after police saw him viewing an adult movie titled "Chocolate Foam" in his vehicle, the Associated Press reported. In July, Tennessee enacted the first state law barring the display of obscene movies from a car. In addition, the City Council in Flint, Mich., this year passed a measure that would impose a $500 fine on drivers who play pornographic movies in their cars, according to a staffer.
Apple declined to comment for this story. Playboy did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The big guns are gun-shy
Wary of potential problems, U.S. wireless carriers such as Sprint are shying away from selling adult content for now, even as they beef up their wireless Internet capabilities and expand services for delivering rich media such as video. Sprint this month agreed to a $35 billion merger with Nextel, a deal that will create the third-largest wireless carrier in the United States.
"The content standards we apply are the same as those that are used for over-the-air television broadcasts," a Sprint representative said. "We are very conscious of Sprint as a brand, and we are not looking at offering that kind (adult) of content."
John Walls, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, said the group is working to craft a ratings system, similar to those used for movies and video games, that would be available for wireless content. He couldn't say when that system would launch.
"We are aware of (wireless adult content) and we are certainly taking steps to address it," he said. "Content rating is a top priority for us."
Walls added that several software filters are available on the market to block inappropriate wireless content.
Legal experts said public viewing of porn on a mobile device does not raise novel issues of law.
"If someone were to flip open a magazine on a bus or an airplane, it would raise exactly the same issue," said Eugene Volokh, a constitutional scholar at UCLA who has written extensively on the First Amendment. "This is a case of exposing someone to material that they don't want to see."
No federal law bars such display, Volokh said, but some states might bar the practice, for example, under statutes meant to prevent harm to minors.
Volokh added that he believes attempts to rein in public display of porn on cell phones could run into a roadblock because the Supreme Court has never given a clear and unambiguous definition of obscenity--the standard for prurient speech that does not qualify for protection under the First Amendment and thus is most vulnerable to censorship.
"There is probably some room for regulation here," he said. "But the Supreme Court has never narrowly defined what counts as obscene."
Beyond the law, Volokh said he believes the problem of public porn on cell phones may be overstated, due to deep-seated social restraints that will make it more of a theoretical than practical concern.
"In practice, almost no one is ever arrested for this sort of thing," he said. "People just don't feel comfortable flipping through Playboy on the commuter train."
And if someone does offend? Approach someone in authority or move away, advises etiquette consultant Whitmore.
"You never know how someone is going to react," she warned. "Sometimes things can turn violent. So the moral is: Don't ever get into a confrontation, if you can help it."
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