Commissioner John C. Bastian|
CEO, Security Software Systems
The rapid growth and popularity of the Internet has made it an indispensable vehicle for commerce, information and communication. With a vast interactive audience, a wide diversity of content is available to any Internet user. Unrestricted access provides the ultimate diversity in information, culture, art, music and sex.
Harmful to Minors (HTM) content is a large, diverse part of the Internet. Hundreds of thousands of explicit web sites exist with millions of pages of HTM material are easily accessed by a few clicks of a mouse. Marketing strategies of these "sex" businesses vary widely from simple real-world advertising to unsolicited explicit email spams.
Commissioners heard testimony from a wide diversity of organizations, technology vendors and individuals who all represented their perspective and information succinctly. However, I feel we have only opened the door on many issues and because of time and resource limitations, not fully explored important facets of our investigations.
I believe an acronym is appropriate to express the diversity a solution may entail.
The ALERT Equation
Awareness, Law enforcement, Education, Responsibility and Technology all have a part to play in the protection equation. As we all learned. a single solution, or magic bullet is not a reality.
A sensible approach is necessary to inform caregivers and young net citizens of the dangers of unrestricted on-line access but balanced with the benefits and responsibilities that go with its use. Awareness is not just identifying the problem, it must encompass solutions. Throughout history, society has paid a cost for technological advances. The major difference with the "on-line" generation is the simple fact that children are the early adopters and can have a higher degree of technological knowledge than the adult caregiver. This not an "out of sight, out of mind" problem, awareness is a key element. Harmful to minors material, designed for an adult audience often is easily accessible by a child. Access can be accidental or intentional, but the result is the same.
Even though the report centers on HTM content, a serious problem exists for children in the form of sexual predators and pedophiles. Law enforcement witnesses attested to the dramatic rise in child molestations arising from open or unmonitored Internet communication pathways. Chat rooms, e-mail and Instant Messengers have given a new channel for predators and pedophiles to solicit children.
Current laws need to be fully enforced by well trained, web savvy officers and prosecutors.
Schools, Libraries, Government and Industry must initiate a major educational campaign to inform the public of protective technologies and methods available to protect children online.
As caregivers, we all need to be involved and educated in the process of protecting our children to assure a positive experience for our youth.
Partnerships need to be established between Government and the Internet community to fund programs designed to; educate caregivers, promote public awareness, develop new protective and investigative tools. Federal, State and Local Law Enforcement needs adequate funding to train and add staff. The adult industry has to take responsibility as well. Pornographic site operators fail to understand that even "teaser page" or "mouse trapping" marketing tactics are detrimental to children. We cannot assume pornographers will ever become "good" internet citizens as some witnesses purported. Even explicit sites touting protective technologies still place this technology behind the teasers. Caregivers also have the responsibility to learn the facts and know what the child is doing on-line.
The real-time nature of the Internet allows site content to be changed at anytime. Because of this fact, technology designed to protect children from HTM materials faces significant challenges. Chat rooms, E-mail and Instant Messaging are additional challenges for technology. As testimony indicated, there is a real need for a credible independent "benchmarking" organization to evaluate marketplace protective tools for effectiveness and proper application. We found that "one size fits all" is not the reality. Protective technologies are as diverse as their clients.
Today's youth face a multitude of challenges regarding technology that many adult caregivers cannot fully understand. We, as a society, face the challenge of protecting our children from inappropriate content and communications from a new media that has a unique character.
In recent history, the dominance the U.S. experienced in the Internet community is being diminished by fast adoption in other countries. Soon half the content on the web will be from foreign sources. This provides multiple challenges for law enforcement, legislators, child protection technology vendors and more importantly, children.
I would like to thank all my fellow commissioners and the support staff for their dedication to this commission. Additionally, I would like to thank all the witnesses for their insight and commitment.