Joint Statement of Government Representatives to the COPA Commission1
As children's Internet access has increased, so too have concerns that they have positive, safe online experiences. Children are shielded from commercial pornography in the real world of homes, schools, libraries, and neighborhoods. In neighborhood convenience stores and other areas that children frequent, for example, pornographic magazines are shielded from public view behind brown wrappers and located on the higher shelves, and not sold to minors; television rules limit programming containing indecent adult material to late evening hours.
Children are entitled to an analogous level of protection online. Often, they do not have this. Innocent search requests turn up lurid descriptions of pornographic sites that can be accessed via a mouse-click. Unsolicited email promotes access to this material. At best, these experiences are discomforting and unwelcome. The children who testified at the COPA hearings voiced their unease with the intruding presence of online pornography. Moreover, children may be lured to Web sites where they do not belong.
The Child Online Protection Commission was established by Congress to look at tools and methods to protect children from harmful to minors materials online. The Administration believes that the work of the Commission is vitally important in this effort. Acting under a tight deadline and difficult circumstances, the Commission has developed an extensive and valuable record regarding the available child-protective tools and methods. Each member contributed his or her expertise and demonstrated objectivity in considering the wide range of evidence presented at the hearings. The Commission as a whole and the individual Commissioners deserve high praise for their efforts.
The Administration has long supported an industry-led, self-regulatory approach to address these concerns. First, it has encouraged industry and nonprofit organizations to develop and provide ready access to child-friendly, quality content on the Internet and to develop technological tools that help parents and guardians protect children from material they consider harmful or inappropriate. Second, it has encouraged public institutions offering Internet access to adopt "acceptable use" policies that offer parents a reasonable assurance that schools and libraries have safeguards in place to permit users to have educational experiences consistent with their local values. Third, it has strongly supported the enforcement of existing laws that prohibit the distribution of child pornography, distribution of obscene material, and use of the Internet to entice children away from the safety of their homes. Through projects like the FBI's Innocent Images Project, which includes representatives of the Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Government is continuing to combat the use of the Internet to traffic in child pornography and to stalk children for illegal sexual activity. Additionally, the Administration has actively advanced policy regarding Internet content, both in bilateral discussions and multilateral meetings with foreign governments. Bilateral agreements with foreign governments have emphasized the importance of filtering technologies rather than the use of government censorship to protect minors from accessing inappropriate material on the Internet.
The record of the COPA hearings makes clear that significant efforts have been made to respond to this challenge of protecting children online. The child-protective tools and methods available to date permit parents, teachers, and librarians to provide children with some level of protection on the Internet. As currently configured, these tools provide a limited level of safety and are likely to reduce child access to online pornography and other harmful to minors materials. Still, it is clear that they are not up to the task of providing full protection. Indeed, no one approach or tool, alone, is likely to provide children with protection from such material. Instead, government and industry need to work together to devise an improved "safety net" of protections -- coupling improved technology with new self-regulatory standards -- to reduce children's exposure to commercial pornography and other sexually explicit materials online.
The Administration looks forward to working with lawmakers and industry on improving protections for children online. During the COPA hearings, we identified efforts that government and industry could take to increase protection of children online; these proposals are described below. We are pleased that the Commission endorsed many of these suggestions, addressing them in its recommendations. If the COPA Commission's recommendations are implemented, we believe that they will result in meaningfully increased protection of children online.
Local, State, and Federal Governments Should Increase Enforcement of Laws Prohibiting the Distribution of Child Pornography, the Intentional Distribution of Obscene Materials to Minors, and the Use of the Internet to Entice Children for Illegal Sexual Activity. The Internet has become the online equivalent of the proverbial "playground" frequented by predators seeking child victims. Law enforcement must continue to investigate and prosecute instances of child exploitation via the Internet.
Browsers Should Feature A "Parental Control" Button In a Prominent Location. This feature would increase accessibility of child-protective tools and methods. This is a low- cost, user-friendly method for bringing these tools to parents' attention.
The Online Commercial Pornography Industry Should Voluntarily Adopt Standards That Restrict Ready Access to Pornography. In addition to whatever effective legal protections can be fashioned, it is clear that the online commercial pornography industry itself can and should be doing more to protect children from online access to their products. This industry has stated its willingness to engage in self-regulation. It should adopt standards to reduce ready access to online commercial pornography by children.
The Online Commercial Pornography Industry and Search Engine Operators Should Voluntarily Adopt Standards To Reduce Intrusiveness of Pornography. These industries should adopt a cyberspace equivalent of a "plain brown wrapper" for commercial online pornographic material.
Industry Should Improve Available Technological Protections, Including Filtering and Blocking Technologies, Monitoring Technologies, and Child-safe "Green Spaces."
The Online Industry Should Provide More Support to Rating Systems. Substantial effort has been committed to ratings systems but they have not yet reached critical mass.
Government and Industry Should Promote Acceptable Use Policies. Acceptable use policies are a non-technological tool for protecting children online. The Administration encourages parents and public institutions that offer access to online resources, including the Internet, to adopt such policies. Just as we provide children with firm rules for crossing the street and guidelines for dealing with a variety of unfamiliar situations, we need to provide them with rules and guidelines to facilitate their online learning experiences as well as their safety.
Conclusion. The COPA Commission completed a complex task in a short amount of time under difficult circumstances. Its Report will provide significant assistance to industry and government alike as we continue to grapple with the difficult issue of protecting children online while ensuring the broadest possible flow of information.
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