- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

Parents shouldn't rely solely on technology to protect children from obscene material on the Internet, according to a new report by the National Research Council.
Technology solutions such as software filters must be used in conjunction with programs to better educate children about the Internet, and legislative approaches to protect young people from pornography on the Web, Richard Thornburgh, former attorney general and chairman of the group that prepared the report, said at a news conference yesterday.
"Reliance on any one component can create a false sense of security," Mr. Thornburgh said.
Congress asked the National Research Council in 1998 to study Internet pornography and children's exposure to explicit material. The study estimates there are about 400,000 for-pay adult Internet sites worldwide 100,000 in the United States that contain sexually explicit material. An estimated 21.3 million children surf the Internet daily, according to Internet research firm Jupiter Media Metrix.
Software that filters explicit content isn't enough by itself to stop children from gaining access to pornographic Web sites, the panel concluded.
"Our study found that technology cannot provide a complete, or even a nearly complete, solution," Mr. Thornburgh said.
Still, Robin Raskin, technology consultant at publisher Ziff Davis Media and a member of the NRC panel that produced the report, urged software companies to make better filters that screen more Web pages with explicit material but without accidentally screening pages with inoffensive content.
David Burt, spokesman for Seattle-based software company N2H2 Inc., which develops filters, said companies are constantly trying to improve their products.
"I was impressed with the panel's middle-of-the-road approach. They said filters are useful but aren't the only solution," he said.
Legislative approaches also could be useful in protecting children, the panel said, but may present some constitutional problems.
A three-judge federal panel in Philadelphia is weighing the constitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act, a law passed in December 2000 that requires public libraries to install filtering software to block access to pornographic Web sites on their computers. The federal government can withhold federal funds from libraries that don't use filters, under the disputed law.
On Wednesday a group of lawmakers proposed legislation to ban computer simulations of teen-agers or children having sex.
They introduced the legislation after the U.S. Supreme Court decided last month to strike down parts of a child pornography law.
Mr. Thornburgh said repeatedly that enforcing existing obscenity laws and prosecuting people who peddle pornography to children would help protect young people.
"Obscenity and child pornography enjoy no First Amendment protection," he said.
Jerry Berman, executive director of the civil libertarian group Center For Democracy and Technology, applauded the panel for its conclusion that legislation alone won't protect children.
"There is no silver bullet. Certainly legislation isn't the answer," Mr. Berman said.
The best and perhaps most overlooked method to protect children while they are online is by improving educational efforts, the panel said.
The group said children should be told how to use the Internet, where to go while they are online and what they can expect to see while surfing the Web.
One principal finding in the 420-page study is that social and educational policies have not helped children learn how to make good choices, Mr. Thornburgh said.
The panel recommended that parents take common sense steps to protect children including supervising their use of the Internet and putting personal computers in places such as the living room to prevent solitary viewing of Web pages.
Despite efforts by parents to block children's access to porn sites or by legitimate adult sites that try to restrict access by young people, children still commonly go to sites with sexually explicit material.
About 70 million different people visit adult Web sites each week, according to industry statistics cited by the panel's report, and 16 percent of visitors to adult Web sites in February were younger than 18, according to statistics from Internet research firm Nielsen/NetRatings Inc.
The National Research Council is a part of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.

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