Washington -- Requiring schools and libraries to use
filtering software to block out Internet smut sites will keep some -- but not all --
prurient material from children, education and online experts told a Senate panel last
Under consideration at the Senate Commerce Committee was a
proposal that would link federal subsidies that help pay for connecting schools and
libraries to the Internet to the installation of Internet-screening software.
The subsidies, introduced as part of the 1996
Telecommunications Act, will provide schools and libraries with more than $2 billion in
federal funding this year alone.
'It is simply wrong, and clearly irrational, to
require the public to pay for Internet access outside of the home that would expose
children to the very dangers that their parents would shield them from inside the
home,' said committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the bill's chief
But several witnesses testified that today's screening
technology, which often relies on keyword searches, lets a lot of sexually explicit or
obscene material slip through for display on children's computer screens.
'They are a good start, but they both block too much
and too little,' said Seth Warshavsky, CEO of Internet Entertainment Group Inc., a
commercial Internet-pornography producer.
Because blocking technologies are considered only partially
effective, some lawmakers in Congress want to take more comprehensive action to keep
Internet pornography from children.
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) testified that his bill would
criminalize the commercial distribution via the Internet of sexual material deemed
'harmful to minors.' The producers of sexually explicit sites would have to
ensure that only adults could receive their material by requiring the use of credit cards
or other age identifiers. Violators would face
penalties of up to six months in jail and $50,000 in fines.
The Supreme Court last year struck down a provision of the
1996 Telecommunications Act that would have banned 'indecent' material from the
Internet. Citing constitutional free-speech protections, the court ruled the that the
provision was overly broad.
Civil-liberties groups said they would almost certainly
challenge both the McCain and the Coats bills, if adopted.
The original sponsor of the Communications Decency Act,
Coats also took a jab at the Department of Justice, accusing the agency of failing to take
action against the producers of Internet material that are not protected by the First
Amendment, such as child pornography.
But a DOJ spokesman said the FBI started a program last
year called 'Innocent Images,' run out of its office in Baltimore. Through the
program, FBI agents go online while undercover to investigate people who are victimizing
children through the Internet.
On the local law-enforcement level, an undercover detective
from California testified last week that police departments lack the manpower and
technological expertise to catch pedophiles who use the World Wide Web and chat rooms to
States News Service