Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Our reps want to protect kids from Amazon.com and tutoring

Not a single member of the state's House of Representatives delegation -- not a single Democrat, and not a single Republican -- had the brains last week to vote against a bill that could prohibit libraries and schools from allowing kids to visit Amazon.com on the web. The bill also likely would prohibit minors from visiting that highly dangerous site, Tutor.com.

The havoc the bill would wreak on schools, libraries and kids was not intended -- but c'mon, who says members of congress aren't allowed to read what they are voting on? Maybe they were confused because they don't understand the technology -- and these are the folks we are supposed to let decide things like net neutrality? Scary, scary scary.

This was the legislative process at its worst. A poll-driven piece of legislation, the Deleting Online Predators Act, that was rushed through the House before anyone stopped to think at all about what it said. The bill would prohibit schools and libraries that receive federal funds from allowing minors to access commercial chat rooms or social networking sites.

As CNet News reports:

Even though politicians apparently meant to restrict access to MySpace, the definition of off-limits Web sites is so broad the bill would probably sweep in thousands of commercial Web sites that allow people to post profiles, include personal information and allow "communication among users." Details will be left up to the Federal Communications Commission.

House Republicans have enlisted the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA, as part of a poll-driven effort to address topics that they view as important to suburban voters in advance of November's elections. Republican pollster John McLaughlin surveyed 22 suburban districts and presented his research at a retreat earlier this year. DOPA was
part of the result.

The Joliet Herald News reports:

Blocking access to chat rooms and networking sites also would block helpful sites such as Tutor.com and AskAwayIllinois.com, a chat-based reference service, librarians say. Some libraries use Web logs to communicate with the public and staff. Children doing homework at the library often use chat rooms to collaborate on projects, (Library Administrator Julie) Milavec said.

ecommerce times chimes in with:

"It is a bad piece of legislation," says Bernadette Murphy, a spokesperson for the American Library Association. She told the E-Commerce Times that DOPA's implementation would limit access to distant learning, blogs and even e-mail.

"Basically anything that allows a two-way conversation, such as posting to a blog or sending an e-mail, falls under DOPA," she said.

Specifically, the act would ban any site -- it doesn't identify particular Web sites such as MySpace.com by name -- that would permit users to create online profiles and enable communication between them.

CBS' Larry Magid, who has a strong background when it comes to the Internet, safety, and kids, wrote:

While nearly everyone agrees that Internet predators should be "deleted," this bill doesn't address that issue. Unlike the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which the President signed into law on July 21, DOPA does nothing to strengthen penalties or increase prosecution of criminals who prey on children. Instead, it punishes the potential victims and educational institutions chartered to serve them, by denying access to interactive sites at school and libraries.

It would be like trying to protect children from being injured or killed by drunk drivers by ruling that kids can no longer walk, ride a bike or even ride in a car or bus to school.

Aside from punishing potential victims rather than the perpetrators, the bill doesn't even address the issue where it matters.

If children are going to get into trouble online, chances are it won't be at school. They'll be home, they'll be at a friend's house or they could even be completely away from adult supervision using their mobile phones. Schools and libraries are relatively protected environments where adults are never far away and, for the most part, computers are in public locations that make it difficult for users to hide what they're doing.

Under the bill, the Federal Communications Commission would establish the final definitions of chat rooms and social networking site, butDOPA lays out some pretty stringent guidelines. The bill says the FCC must consider the degree to which a site:

(i) is offered by a commercial entity;
(ii) permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed personal information;
(iii) permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users;
(iv) elicits highly-personalized information from users; and
(v) enables communication among users.

The Wisconsin delegation on both sides of the aisle let us down on this one. An 'F' on reading comprehension for Tammy Baldwin, Mark Green, Ron Kind, Gwen Moore, David Obey, Thomas Petri, Paul Ryan and F. James Sensenbrenner.

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