- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

Congress approved legislation yesterday to create a safe haven on the Internet for children, where parents can be assured that Web sites are free of pornography and other material not suitable for youngsters.
The measure would make a ".kids.us" Internet domain that would be available within a year and monitored by a government contractor to ensure the material is appropriate for children younger than 13. The bill won unanimous approval from the Senate on Wednesday and the House yesterday.
"Kids need a safe place to go on the Internet," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, who introduced the bill in the Senate. "This is our nation's best chance to guarantee kids an online experience that is fun and age-appropriate from start to finish."
Web sites wishing to register in the "dot-kids" area within the United States Internet domain would have to agree to display only child-friendly material. The sites would be prohibited from linking to Web sites outside the kids' area. Instant-messaging or chat rooms would be banned unless they were certified as safe, protecting children from Web predators.
The legislation defines Web content as harmful to children if it depicts sex or nudity, is clearly sexual in nature or "lacks serious, literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors."
Critics, including some civil liberties groups, say the new domain will do more harm than good.
In a letter sent to lawmakers before the bill passed, Alan Davidson, associate director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology, said the legislation has good intentions but "would be ineffective at protecting children."
One problem, Mr. Davidson said, is that the age range is too broad; material suitable for a 12-year-old may not be right for a younger child.
If the material is restricted for the youngest children, older children won't be interested, he said.
"Many parents will find that limiting their children's Internet activity to '.kids.us' will not be a solution to keeping them safe online," Mr. Davidson said. "And the company administering the domain would be required to make decisions for millions of children that would be better made by families."
Congress wants that company to be NeuStar Corp., a Washington company that has managed the ".us" country domain for a year. The company has three more years in its contract and would get a two-year extension if it agrees to manage the children's domain, a Dorgan aide said.
The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration would oversee NeuStar, which would monitor the domain and remove anything it finds objectionable. There would be procedures for Web site operators to contest decisions to remove their content.
Mr. Davidson said a huge amount of Web site policing would be needed and would be likely to fall short of what parents expect. He said Internet safe areas developed and run outside the government would be more effective.
James Casey, policy director for NeuStar, said the company is up to the task.
"We have to make sure we do it right for the children," Mr. Casey said.

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