Commissioner Donna Rice Hughes|
Author, Kids Online/Founder, Protectkids.com
It has been a privilege to serve on the Child Online Protection Commission, and I am grateful to Senator Trent Lott for giving me this opportunity. I applaud the efforts of each Commissioner, especially the leadership of Chairman Don Telage, in building a solid foundation of unanimous recommendations to better protect children in cyberspace. I also wish to thank my client, FamilyClick and their staff, specifically, Ken Baker; Enough Is Enough; and my dedicated assistant, Judy Hyon.
Since its onset in the early nineties, the online porn industry has grown to $1.5 billion annually (Forbes, 14 June 1999). The result - today's generation of children can, intentionally or accidentally, easily access child pornography, prosecutable obscenity and harmful to minors (HTM) material. The Commission heard testimony from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, that one in four youths ages 10 -17, reported an unwanted exposure to online pornography in the past year. The CommissionŐs report, which fully complements COPA, emphasizes the importance of multiple efforts on different fronts to make the Internet safer for children. This supports my belief that a three-prong solution, involving a shared responsibility between the public, the high-tech industry, and the legal sector, is essential to protect kids online.
Law enforcement officials testified that few, if any resources, have been devoted to the prosecution of obscenity. As the problem has gotten worse, the focus of prosecution has been narrowed only to those who stalk children online or produce large quantities of child pornography. The failure to adequately enforce child pornography and obscenity laws has led to a pervasive "anything goes" mentality by online pornographers and sexual predators. Our recommendation for Law Enforcement action is critical to curbing the sexual exploitation of children online. Aggressive prosecution will not only minimize childrenŐs direct exposure to online porn and sexual predators, but also decrease the sexual abuse of children by those acting out behavior depicted in pornography. Finally, the compliance of Internet Service Providers with current law should be enhanced by my recommendations of an ISP "best practices" code and the utilization of the master list of convicted pornographic sites provided by law enforcement.
The recommendation for the adult online industry to implement readily available, age-verification technologies also supports COPA. Since commercial sites already utilize some form of online payment, efforts such as credit card verification, serve to shield kids from free pornographic teaser images. While supporting the CommissionŐs recommendation for the adult online industry to voluntarily protect children from HTM content, I am skeptical of industry-wide adoption, since, to date, the "e-porn" industry has not responded to self-regulation.
I believe there is a role for additional government regulation, even if COPA is upheld. Because COPA addresses only commercial HTM providers, I support a mandated HTM label, which the Commission found would be effective. Noted First Amendment attorney Larry Lessig, in a memorandum to the Commission, recommended such a proposal and stressed that it "provides an affirmative reason to prefer regulation over doing nothing." Additionally, a diverse panel of experts in Hearing One agreed that if HTM content were placed in a new top-level domain (gTLD) to the exclusion of other domains, and such action constituted an affirmative defense under COPA for non-obscene HTM material, it could be effective in zoning sexually-explicit content.
Witnesses before the Commission made it plain, that while there are a tremendous amount of Internet safety information and resources available, permeation into most communities has been insufficient. The Commission found that increased awareness efforts are a critical need. For maximum offline and online impact, a large scale, multi-media campaign should balance both Internet benefits and dangers. Internet 101 basic training and the implementation of effective safeguards should be encouraged in the home, school and library settings.
Technological solutions such as flexible, customizable filtering tools were found by the Commission to be very effective in preventing childrenŐs access to inappropriate content originating both in the United States and abroad. Based on Hearing Two testimony, safety rules without software tools leave an open door for children to access pornography. Testimony showed that schools and libraries that install customizable filtering software to complement their acceptable-use policies and avoid providing publicly funded peep shows for kids, were successful.
The valuable work that we achieved, in spite of time and funding constraints, further convinces me that the Commission should continue in order to build on the extensive groundwork provided by this record and report. We have an unprecedented opportunity to make the Internet safe and rewarding for children.
In only a few mouse clicks, children can be exposed to material that can never be erased from their minds. Never before in the history of telecommunications has an entire generation of children been invaded by sexually-explicit material with so few restrictions. It is incumbent on parents, industry and government to work together to provide children the protected space of innocence they deserve. Innocence lost can never be regained. The time to act is now.
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