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COPA Commission: Scope & Timeline Proposal

To: COPA Commissioners
From: Don Telage

This memo includes both a discussion proposing the scope of the COPA Commission's inquiry and analysis, and a timeline for producing that analysis.


    Congress has specifically asked the COPA Commission to conduct a study of six topic areas related to methods for reducing minors' access to material on the Internet that is "harmful to minors." The specific topics the Commission must address are:
    • A common resource for parents to use to help protect minors (such as "one-click-away" resources),
    • Filtering or blocking software or services;
    • Labeling or rating systems;
    • Age verification systems;
    • The establishment of a domain name for posting of any material that is harmful to minors; and
    • Any other existing or proposed technologies or methods for reducing access by minors to such material.

    We have also been instructed to analyze each of these types of technology, specifically considering the following:

    • Cost of such technologies and methods to parents
    • Accessibility of such technologies and methods to parents
    • Effect of this technology on law enforcement
    • Effect of this technology on privacy
    • Effect of this technology on the global and decentralized nature of the Internet

    Some of these topics are broader and include a greater number of competitive issues than others. However, in every case, it is necessary that we develop a plan for how to receive and analyze the products, resources, and issues these raise, or we will be overwhelmed by ad hoc requests from those companies and organizations with the resources to do so. A structured approach will be fairer to everyone with an interest in these issues.


  1. Essential Elements

    There are five specific types of technological resources that the Commission has been instructed to look at, plus "any other" existing or proposed technologies for reducing minors' access to material that is "harmful to minors." The Commission should invite a number of companies to demonstrate their products, making sure that we hear from companies making a range of different products that work in different ways. If we decide to allow any company that wishes to demonstrate a product, we will have to limit the amount of time available to any given product.

    Prior to the hearings, the Commission should request information about these products -- how they work, how much they cost, how widely they are used -- from as many companies as possible. In light of proprietary information concerns, I recommend that we make assurances that only aggregate data will be released. (For example, there are X companies that filter using URL lists, there are Y filtered ISPs (perhaps broken down by state), a bar graph reflecting the costs of these products (under $30, $30-50, yearly subscription...) looks like Z.)

    Since the best evidence of a product's effectiveness is its track record, the Commission should require that any company whose product is demonstrated submit a list of at least three customers or users, which the Commission may contact for information about the product's effectiveness. Where that product has been submitted for independent or other testing those results should also be obtained. Finally, since the problems encountered by children and families caused Congress to create the Commission, the Commission should solicit, by public notice, written submissions setting out problems, solutions, or their concerns.

    Given the robust marketplace of tools in these areas, a minimum of three technology-focused hearings will be necessary.

    One hearing on filtering and blocking software and services (item B), including both client-based software and server-based "Filtered ISPs", image recognition, list-based, keyword-based. I would recommend combining this hearing with item C, labeling and rating services, so that the panel can learn about PICS based filtering along with other forms of filtering technology.

    A second hearing should cover common resources that are "one-click away" from or available to parents (item A), including, but not limited to:;; filtering;;;;;; and the GetNetWise resource. That hearing should be combined with demonstrations and instruction on age verification technologies (item D) and discussion of establishment of a domain name for posting material that is harmful to minors (item E). While these topics are disparate, each is also narrower in scope than most of the other topics and all three can be covered in one day.

    The third hearing and final technology-oriented hearing should focus on item F, other kinds of technological tools and methods. These should include, at a minimum, client-based monitoring software, search engines and subscription services that are oriented towards children, tools that limit the amount of time a given user can spend online, and any other tools that the commission deems important.

  2. Given But Resources Enough and Time...
    • Hearings at Varied Locations

      If it is at all possible, all three hearings should be held in different locations. I suggest that we hold one in or near the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley, one in Austin, Texas, and the third (or more) in Chicago, Virginia (Richmond was suggested at the meeting) or Boston.

    • Commission Academic Studies or Analyses

      Subject to timely availability of funding, a professor or think tank associated with a reputable institution that has not previously taken a position for or against the use of filtering software should be commissioned to study the effectiveness of these tools. They should be specifically instructed to look at a minimum of 2 categories of online material: Does the product filter, block, or specifically note access to a set of unambiguously commercial pornographic Web sites? Does the product filter, block, or specifically note access to a set of Web sites noted as 'misblocked' by such filtering critics as Peacefire or

      This same study could also analyze and quantify the number of products that indicate they are customizable, and the degree to which that is true; the different categories of information that products filter or say they filter, and the usefulness and accuracy of information provided to a customer about the criteria used to decide whether or not a given site should be filtered.

    • Testimony and Analysis from Experts

      The Commission has specifically been asked to consider the effects that these technologies have on law enforcement, privacy, and the global and decentralized nature of the Internet. Feedback should be sought from law enforcement agencies, privacy advocates, and experts on the global and decentralized nature of the Internet, regarding these topics.

      Subcommittees will be established to gather information from these various sources. Gathering this data will be time-consuming since these sources do not necessarily keep information, which will be of use to the Commission, in a form which is useful. These reports, if gathered on a rolling basis, can add considerably to our ability to question witnesses, consider information from product producers, and consider practical and constitutional limitations.

  3. Suggested Timeline

    April 28, 2000 Meeting to finalize scope & plans
    June 8-9, 2000 Hearing on resources that are one-click-away, age verification, and creation of an adult domain.
    July 20-21, 2000 Hearing on filtering & labeling
    August 3-4, 2000 Hearing on other technology
    September 8, 2000 Deadline for expert reports
    October 2, 2000 Draft report circulated to Commission
    October, 2000 Final report circulated to Commission
    October 21, 2000 Report submitted to Congress

    Also, some time between the first hearing and the expert deadline, we should schedule a consultation and update with the Congressional Internet Caucus.

  4. Budget

    Supplies 10,000
    Phone/Fax 12,000
    Postage & Delivery 2,500
    Printing 4,000
    Books/Subscriptions/Dues 2,500
    Office Equipment 2,000
    Computer Equipment/Leased 12,000
    Travel 5,000
    (Meetings & conferences, excluding hearings) 20,000
    Furniture & Fixtures 12,000
    Network Usage/Web host & design 10,000
    Legal & Insurance 25,000
    Accounting Fees 3,000
    Rent 30,000
    Staff 150,000
    Secretary/Assistant 50,000
    Media 45,000
    Chief of Staff (per annum) 120,000
    Hearings (3) 240,000
    Expert Reports 100,000
    Copying & Congressional Outreach 150,000
    Total 1,000,000

  5. Existing Resources

    Obviously each of the commissioners, and the companies and organizations they are affiliated with, bring a wealth of knowledge and experience related to our mission. However, as a reference point, there are a number of resources that already exist and should be examined by the commission as we look into these different areas.

    • A Common Resource for Parents

      Last summer, the Internet Education Foundation coordinated an industry-wide effort to create a common resource for parents to use to help protect their children, and to put that resource "one-click-away" from parents, wherever they go online. The foundation worked together with experts in children's online safety and content, with nonprofit organizations, and with a broad industry coalition to put together such a comprehensive and ubiquitous resource. It was launched in July 1999 under the name "GetNetWise." GetNetWise includes safety information for children and families, a searchable database of filtering and other technological child-safety tools including over 100 products, a guide to recognizing and reporting trouble online, with links to law enforcement and child advocacy resources, and several collections of Web sites for kids that have been selected by a variety of different experts in this area. In fact, Commissioner Rice Hughes is on the GetNetWise advisory board, and many of the companies serving on this Commission are also sponsors and supporters of GetNetWise.

      I invite each of you to look at the GetNetWise central resource, located online at

    • Filtering or Blocking Technology

      The marketplace for these tools has exploded in parallel to the growth of the Internet. Only a handful of these tools even existed five years ago. In 1998, at the America Links Up kickoff, AT&T Research Labs produced an inventory of available technology. ( That list included 44 products. In December 1999, the GetNetWise tool database ( listed over 110 products, and there are many more. Two recent articles, from the New York Times - Cybertimes ("Filtered Internet Services Reach More Religious Groups" October 20, 1999) and from USA Today ("Safe surfing for Web-wary families" August 18, 1999, p. 6D), draw attention to an increasingly popular resource - the filtered Internet Service Provider.

      The National Academy of Sciences is in the process of organizing a major study of the effectiveness of filtering and blocking software at protecting children from exposure to obscene sexually explicit material. While our Commission will probably complete our work long before that study is completed, I hope that we will be able to identify a number of resources for the NAS study. Additionally, we should look at the variety of ways these products work, how easy or difficult they are to use, and the degree of decision-making control parents have over what material their children will be able to gain access to when these products are in place. Should we raise the question of schools, libraries, or employers? Both the Freedom to Read Foundation and the National Law Center for Children & Families has written extensive analyses of filtering the Internet in public locations.

      On April 13, 2000, the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families (independent organization not affiliated with the National Law Center for Children and Families) will be holding a "Tech 2000 Shootout," in Cincinnati, Ohio. This is a daylong event where filtering/blocking technologies will be tested against a single benchmark to allow comparisons to be made. The results of this test should be included in any consideration of technology and a representative of the testing organization allowed to testify or submit written testimony.

    • Labeling and rating systems

      This Commission should examine the relationship between rating, labeling and filtering, and consider the differences between third party labeling and rating, and "self-rating" or labeling. This issue has recently been the subject of international attention; the work of the Bertelsmann Foundation, and critics of that work, should be examined by this Commission. We should also question the ease or difficulty of the use of labeling and rating systems, both by parents seeking to make informed decisions about their children's access, and by individuals publishing on the Internet. Under what circumstances will each use such a system? Is voluntary labeling and rating of Web sites meaningful? Are there risks of abuse or government censorship of legal, if controversial, content through the use of mandatory labeling or rating systems?

    • Age Verification Systems

      Age verification on the Internet is an issue that the entire industry has been struggling with recently. This Commission should look at the recently released Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) rules (, which require Web sites to get parental permission before collecting personally identifiable information from minors under age 13. Many of the statements made to the FTC during this rulemaking process will be informative to this Commission. Additionally, CDT has already released an analysis of the new COPPA rules, identifying what they consider to be the rules' strengths and weaknesses (

      This Commission should also look at commercial age verification systems, such as those currently used by some adult Web sites. (For example, We should consider their effectiveness - do they really prevent minors from gaining access to material designated for adults? - As well as what burdens they place on adults' access to constitutionally protected speech. Are there age verification systems that allow verified adults, or verified children, to retain privacy or anonymous access to information on the Web? How easy or difficult are they for families to use?

    • Domain Names for Material that is Harmful to Minors

      Questions relating to adult-oriented domain names are being addressed in numerous fora, including the federal courts, ICANN, and private industry. This Commission should first gather information from groups that have been considering this question as part of their larger missions.

      An idea that is often touted as a way to protect children from inappropriate sexually explicit material is the creation of a new top-level domain with a name like ".xxx". What are the implications of such a domain? Would the owners of adult oriented ".com" sites be required to move to the new domain? Who would decide whether a given Web site must move? Would ".com" adult sites automatically be given the ".xxx" version of a domain name they currently hold? What are the privacy and free expression concerns related to such a domain?

    • Other Technological Options for Protecting Children

      There are many technology tools available for parents who are concerned about their children's online experiences. This Commission should request demonstrations of tools in - at least - the following categories:

      • Monitoring tools that allow parents to review their children's use of the Internet or the computer;
      • Time-limiting tools that allow parents to set the time of day and total amount of time a child can spend online or on the computer;
      • Filters that prevent children from giving out personally identifiable information such as their name, address, or telephone number;
      • Search engines oriented towards children;
      • Closed "green space" Internet based locations designed to give children safe and pre-screened online experiences.

      This Commission should gather information on how easy or difficult these kinds of tools are to use, how they work, and what privacy or freedom of speech concerns these types of tools may raise.

      The Commission should consider and study how pornography or material harmful to minors is being marketed. Since the Supreme Court considered the Communications Decency Act (CDA), distributors of sexually explicit material have developed and begun using a number of new technologies, which push this material on unsuspecting consumers. The technology being used today must take into account current marketing technologies and strategies as well as identifying how they will address technologies in the future. This is extremely important as the increase in technology convergence quickens. The Commission also should examine currently available and emerging technologies that may help parents counter those marketing efforts.

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