CDT Analyzes Data Retention, Other Proposals For Protecting Kids Online

Feb 21, 2007 (10:02 AM EST)

Read the Original Article at

One in five children is sexually solicited online, according to a study that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales cited during a speech at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children last year. Few would dispute the severity of the problem, but a free speech and privacy group is scrutinizing several plans to combat it.

Congress has introduced a slew of bills to deal with the problem. Some legislation would hold technology and communications companies responsible for predatory activities that take place through their services. Others would increase funding for safety initiatives focusing on empowering parents and educating children.

The Center for Democracy and Technology has analyzed several of the proposals to protect children on the Internet and concluded that most would be ineffective and violate the U.S. Constitution. The privately-funded policy group says it supports protection of children online, but the best way to do it is through education and filtering tools -- not through blacklisting, data retention, or mandatory labeling.

"Direct attempts to regulate content on the Internet, in contrast, are seldom effective, in part because of the fact that more than half of the sexual content that Congress seeks to regulate is overseas, outside the reach of a U.S. criminal law or regulation," the CDT wrote in a policy analysis published last week.

The CDT praised a plan that U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) introduced. Bean's bill, H.R. 1008, has 48 co-sponsors. It would create an Internet safety office to coordinate safety initiatives and provide funding to schools, libraries, and other groups. The CDT also supports portions of other bills that increase funding for prosecuting child pornography in America, while encouraging foreign governments to fight sexual exploitation of children.

Restrictions on blogs and social networking site access in schools and libraries would fail to protect children who access the Internet from home or through their mobile devices, according to the CDT. The group also criticizes those efforts as too broad because they would prevent legal communication. Moreover, the CDT states that efforts to block children's access to blogs and social networking sites from school and libraries would deepen the digital divide. Finally, the CDT said such efforts would place an unfair burden of liability on content and communications providers.

Mandatory labeling wouldn't work because it wouldn't apply to foreign-based sites and content, the CDT said. Related proposals are so broad that they would apply to some PG movie content, according to the CDT. Blacklisting can pose similar problems, and judges have ruled against state laws blocking access to sites because of content.

Data retention laws would threaten privacy and security of subscribers' personal information while providing room for mission creep, or the expanded use of stored information, the CDT said. They erode public confidence in the Internet and cost providers huge sums of money, while ignoring current laws that allow the government to retain records up to 90 days before requesting an extension, according to the CDT.

U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation requiring ISPs to report child pornography use through their services. Though CDT praised some aspects of the proposal for being more cautious than other data retention bills, it criticized portions that would require providers to block access to blacklisted sites. U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) introduced a House version of that bill, which has gained support from the National Sheriffs Association, Focus on the Family Research Council, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The CDT wants Congress to follow recommendations from two panels it established to investigate the best methods for protecting children online. Both concluded that laws and regulations targeting Internet content would be ineffective. The panels recommended the use of education and technology.