Bill seeks to shield kids from predators on social-networking sites

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Public schools and libraries would have to certify that they protect children from harmful activity on commercial social-networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook under a measure recently introduced in Congress.

The Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006, H.R. 5319, was introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., last month. It would require public schools and libraries that receive federal funds to show that they are “enforcing a policy of Internet safety for minors” that includes “prohibit[ing] access to a commercial social networking website or chat room” through which children can access material harmful to them.

The measure would allow access to the commercial social-networking sites by adults or by minors under adult supervision. Fitzpatrick said he introduced the measure out of fear that online predators contact unsuspecting kids on these sites.

“Sites like Myspace and Facebook have opened the door to a new online community of social networks between friends, students and colleagues,” Fitzpatrick said in a May 9 news release. “However, this new technology has become a feeding ground for child predators that use these sites as just another way to do our children harm.

“As the father of 6 children, I hear about these websites on a daily basis,” Fitzpatrick added. “However, the majority of these networking sites lack proper controls to protect their younger users. Also, many parents lack the resources to protect their children from online predators. My legislation seeks to change that.”

The American Library Association opposes the measure, which it says will stifle educational opportunities and online access for minors. “As libraries are already required to block content that is 'harmful to minors' under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), DOPA is redundant and unnecessary legislation,” said ALA President Michael Gorman in a May 15 news release. “Further, the proposed law would block access to some of the Internet’s most powerful emerging technologies and learning applications, essentially stifling library users’ ability to participate fully in the educational opportunities the Internet offers.

“The library community is concerned with the need to protect children from online predators,” Gorman says in the release. “We know that (the) best way to protect children is to teach them to guard their privacy and make wise choices. To this end, libraries across the country offer instruction on safe Internet use.”

The measure would also require the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to examine the problem of inappropriate material on social-networking sites visited by children.

The FCC would have to establish an advisory board that would spearhead the publishing of “a list of commercial social networking websites and chat rooms that have been shown to allow sexual predators easy access to personal information of, and contact with, children.”

The FTC would have to issue consumer alerts about the “potential dangers of commercial social networking websites and chat rooms.” The FTC would also have to establish a specific Web site (“with a distinctive Uniform Resource Locator”) that would serve as a “resource for parents, teachers and school administrators” on the potential dangers of commercial social-networking Web sites and chat rooms.

The measure has been referred to a House subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

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