- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

The score is now 2-0. Pornographers and pedophiles, so far, have pitched a no-hitter in the courts against families and children. Regrettably, two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal law banning virtual child pornography, which looks just like the real thing, but, instead, is generated by a computer.

This latest decision follows on the heels of the Supreme Court's 1997 decision to strike down the Communications Decency Act, which had made it illegal to send pornography to children via the Internet. Still pending in the courts is the Children's Internet Protection Act, which requires schools and libraries that receive federal funding to employ Internet filtering software, and written Internet safety policies, to protect children from indecent material. Let's hope this isn't a case of three strikes and you're out.

More and more parents have recognized that they are losing control over what enters their home as their children spend more and more time on the home computer surfing the Internet. While the Internet is an excellent tool for children to learn, there is all sorts of inappropriate material that with just one wrong click comes right into your living room, den, bedroom, or wherever your computer is located. As we visit elementary schools in our districts, sadly we find that nearly 80 percent of kids who use the Internet indicate that they have run across inappropriate material. While there is no substitute for proper parental supervision, responsible parents want more tools to assist them in protecting their kids on the Internet. Filters are one solution, but we believe more must be done to help.

That's why we support the "Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002" (H.R. 3833), which would enable the establishment of a kid-friendly space on the Internet. We have made passage of this important bipartisan legislation, introduced by Rep. John Shimkus and Rep. Ed Markey, a top priority of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.

Just like .com or .gov or .org .kids will be an Internet address code, but the difference is that only web sites with content which is both "not harmful to minors" and "suitable for minors" could get access. Under the bill, a "minor" is defined as a person 12-years-old and under. The .kids space would be a safe place devoted solely to material that is appropriate for kids where parents could choose to send their kids. In concept, this is really no different than the children's section at the public library, which is the only part of the library where kids are allowed to check out books.

More specifically, the .kids space would be housed within our country's Internet code, otherwise known as .us which would result in .kids.us. For instance, if the Boy Scouts of America, whose web site currently is: www.scouting.org, decided to set up an additional mirror site in the .kids.us space, it would be: www.scouting.kids.us. The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) would oversee the implementation of .kids.us and while the bill stipulates that only web sites with content that is "not harmful to minors" and is "suitable for minors" can get into the ".kids.us" space, the written content standards and rules of the road would be developed and enforced by the private sector, under the direction of the registry that has the contract from the Department of Commerce to manage the .us country code.

While the Supreme Court has cited the First Amendment as the basis for striking down previous efforts by Congress to protect kids on the Internet, H.R. 3833 is drafted in a manner which is consistent with the First Amendment. First, the proposal does not affect anyone's ability to put whatever kind of speech they want on the World Wide Web, on a .com, .net, .org or anywhere else. This bill only addresses a small part of the Internet the .us space. Moreover, it doesn't even curtail speech throughout the entirety of the .us space, because speech more appropriate for adults or teen-agers can appear elsewhere in the .us space. The bill solely says that if you want to operate in the .kids area a subset of the .us space you have entered a kid-friendly zone, where the content is appropriate for children 12 and under. Again, this is completely voluntary for parents to use if they wish and content providers to avail themselves of if they are so inclined.

Moreover, now more than ever, parents recognize the dangers posed to their children in Internet chat rooms, where pedophiles can prey on children right in the comfort of the family living room. This is why the bill also bans chat rooms and instant messaging in the .kids.us space unless this can be done without jeopardizing the safety of kids, through effective monitoring, for example. Hyperlinks, which would take kids outside of the .kids.us space, would also be banned.

This bill has been endorsed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Family Research Council, among others. The bill has already been approved by the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet and the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. It is our hope to bring the bill to the House floor in the not-too-distant future and expeditiously move it through the rest of the legislative process.

In our view, this bill is a home run for American families and children.


Rep. Billy Tauzin is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Fred Upton is chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

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