Legislation to Help Protect Children in Cyberspace (page 3)
At this point, you may be wondering how it could be that so many crimes in real life can so easily be committed in cyberspace? Selling drugs, pedaling child porn, sexual predatory behavior, etc. seems to run rampant in the online world, how come? The nature of Internet pornography, indecency, obscenity, and the sort of person who uses it has resulted in a war that is being waged on the Internet, in children’s homes, and certainly on Capitol Hill. The debate has raised not only questions of what exactly is obscenity, harassment, free speech, and censorship, but also of government control over the Internet. In other words, technology has forced us to question what we have always assumed about some very important ideas and made us face the precious balance between democracy and safety. Also, federal and state laws that appropriately delineates actions and consequences has not kept up with the pace of developing technology. We see this in all aspects of our lives. There is more technology available than we know what to do with and how to manage. Yet another reason for legislative inadequacy deals with the enforcement aspect. Because technology is everywhere, sexual predators and other criminals are more of a “moving target” than ever before. They can support their criminal behavior from just about anywhere and at any time of the day or night. The authorities simply do not have the necessary human and financial resources to stay one step ahead.
Whatever legislation ends up being imposed in this arena, it will set a precedent for how the government deals with the exchange of information in the future. Is the Internet a free forum for discussion, or is it a broadcasting service, and therefore subject to the same restrictions as television, print, or radio? Are communications on the Internet covered by the right to privacy? And who is accountable for what happens on it?
Although more slowly than we would like, legislation continues to further the cause of protecting children online. Following is a summary of several major laws of which to be aware (in chronological order of enactment) and accompanying websites for further details. Then, I would like to increase your awareness of other efforts and remind you to take action by participating in the legislative process.
The Communications Decency Act (CDA)
The Communications Decency Act (CDA) attempted to regulate obscenity in cyberspace and how indecency might be available to children. A second section of the Act declared that operators of Internet services were not to be construed as publishers (and thus legally liable for the words of third parties who use their services). Many people found the CDA unconstitutional, and its passing prompted an Internet-wide protest. As a result, the CDA was challenged and overturned, and then taken to the Supreme court where on June 26, 1997 it was soundly defeated on the basis of it being unconstitutional.
Child Online Protection Act (COPA)
The Child Online Protection Act (COPA) is a law in the United States of America, passed in 1998, which declared the purpose of protecting children from harmful sexual material on the Internet. The law was blocked by the courts and has never taken effect. Because it only limited commercial speech and only affected U.S. providers, the effect on the availability of the regulated material to minors if the law was enforced was unlikely to be significant. Several U.S. states have since passed similar laws.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA)
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), signed into law on December 21, 2000, requires that schools and libraries that receive specified federal funding certify that they have in place an Internet safety policy that includes monitoring the use of Internet access by children and implementation of technology that will filter out objectionable content. On May 31, 2002, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Pennsylvania, CIPA was declared facially unconstitutional (i.e.., in the Court’s opinion, the law cannot be applied in a constitutional manner). The District Court decision changed the requirements of CIPA by suspending the technology protection measure for public libraries although not for schools. Then on June 23, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that CIPA is facially constitutional and can be applied in a constitutional manner – a reversal of the previous decision in Pennsylvania.
Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 (DOPA)
Introduced on May 9th, 2006, the Deleting Online Predators Act sought to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms. According to the proposed legislation, the bill prohibits access by minors without parental authorization to a commercial social networking website or chat room through which minors may easily access or be presented with obscene or indecent material; may easily be subject to unlawful sexual advances, unlawful requests for sexual favors, or repeated offensive comments of a sexual nature from adults may easily access other material that is harmful to minors.
This bill too was heavily debated as it faced several criticisms: First, it uses broad definitions of “online social network” which may impede legitimate and appropraate commercial blogging tools and e-mail list services. Second, the Bill does have provisions for allowing educational uses of online social networks. The legislation states that the filtering may be switched off “during use by an adult or by minors with adult supervision to enable access for educational purposes.” However, some wonder whether schools will allow educators to deactivate the filter to allow such access, that is, letting educators make decisions over which sites get filtered and when. In July 2006, this bill passed the House of Representatives although died in the Senate. In January of 2007, the DOPA bill resurfaced in the form of another piece of proposed legislation entitled Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act or sometimes referred to as DOPA, Jr. As of this writing, this bill has been read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
How to Advocate for Your Child
There are many wonderful websites available that can help you to add your voice to the many others so that, in great numbers, we can instill global change to help guard our kids against high-tech trouble. These websites will help you do everything from inform others about Internet safety to advocating for for new legislation:
- Becoming an Advocate (from the National Peace Corp Association). This website discusses the various things that one can do to become a successful advocate. Particularly helpful is how they provide information for how to work with a Member of Congress. http://www.rpcv.org/pages/sitepage.cfm?id=732
- National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. This website is a must-see. Here, you will find volunteer and outreach opportunities while also staying informed of up-to-date information regarding the safety and security of children. http://www.missingkids.com/
- Congress.org is a service of Capitol Advantage and Knowlegis, LLC; private, non-partisan companies that specialize in facilitating civic participation. This website will help you stay up on political issues, contact your congressmen, and voice your opinons. http://www.congress.org/
- United States Senate. The official page of the United States Senate. http://www.senate.gov/
- United States Congress. The official page of the United States Congress. http://www.house.gov/
- WiredSafety.org has volunteer opportunities. WiredSafety, is the largest online safety, education and help group in the world. They are a “cyber-neighborhood watch” and operate worldwide in cyberspace through their more than 9,000 volunteers worldwide. http://www.wiredsafety.org/volunteer/
- Library of Congress (LOC). The purpose of thes website it to make federal legislative information freely available to the public. http://thomas.loc.gov/
- Bully Police USA. A Watch-dog Organization - Advocating for Bullied Children & Reporting on State Anti Bullying Laws. http://www.bullypolice.org/
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