- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The House, citing Internet danger to children, voted yesterday to expand wiretap authority to target molesters looking for young victims online and to establish a new domain for child-friendly Web sites.
The wiretap measure, approved 396-11, would allow investigators to seek wiretaps for suspected sexual predators to help block physical meetings between molesters and children they meet via the computer.
Lawmakers cited the recent death of Christina Long, a sixth-grader from Danbury, Conn., in urging passage of both bills. Police said Christina was strangled and her body dumped into a ravine by a 25-year-old man she met in an Internet chat room.
"The threat to our children is real," shouted Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, Connecticut Republican, the chief sponsor of the wiretapping measure.
Wiretaps could be authorized for people suspected of engaging in child pornography, of trying to get children to perform sexual acts for money or of traveling to or bringing children for sexual activity.
Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, argued against expanding wiretap authority, voicing concerns that even current limited use by law enforcement typically results in overhearing innocent conversations.
Rep. George W. Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican, a former prosecutor, countered, "It is the court that'll decide whether it's helpful or necessary. So all the safeguards are in place."
A similar wiretapping bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate.
A second bill, approved yesterday by a 406-2 vote, would have the federal government oversee a ".kids.us" domain on the Internet that would have only material appropriate for children younger than 13. Web site operators' participation would be voluntary. Parents could set computer software to limit a child's access to only addresses ending in .kids.us.
Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, say it should reduce the chance of accidental exposure to pornography and to other Web sites considered harmful to children, and it would not provide access to interactive features, such as chat rooms.
Groups opposing the domain, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have called the legislation a backdoor attempt at censorship.
Marv Johnson, an ACLU attorney, said the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration would oversee a private firm acting as censor and would be exempt from liability for removing any content from the domain.
"It essentially gives them carte blanche power to kick out whatever they want," he said.
The bill says the government cannot renew its contract with the registry, or enter into a new one elsewhere, unless the registry provides written content standards for the new domain. Access to the domain is to be "suitable for minors" and "not harmful to minors."
Mr. Shimkus said parents need to be aware of what Web sites their children are visiting.
"I have repeatedly said that libraries have children's books sections; why can't the Internet have the same type of section devoted to children's interests?" he said.
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

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