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Today's Flame

October 14, 1998 |, San Francisco | Issue #009

Child Online Protection Act

Today the Congress is approving the Child Online Protection Act (CHOP) and attaching the evil measure to a vast spending bill necessary to keep the government running. CHOP prohibits the dissemination of material "harmful to minors" over the Internet; violators risk up to six months in prison and a $50,000 fine for each day of violation. There are numerous problems with the bill, starting with:

It's unconstitutional — What part of "freedom of speech" do the proponents of this measure not understand?

It's hypocritical — This is the same Congress that published The Starr Report on its "Thomas" web site, the single most obscene collection of bits ever sent down the pipe!

It's clueless — This bone-headed law reveals serious cluelessness about the Internet on the part of Congress. There's no way to authenticate whether any given Internet browser is a child. It's simply not possible. In fact, there's no sure way to authenticate anything about anyone on the net. Doesn't the Legislative Branch have technical staff that can explain to these hosers that individuals access the net using IP addresses, numbers that don't contain any age-related information whatsoever, numbers that are often dynamically assigned on a session-by-session basis? Some adult sites have adopted the fig leaf of requiring a credit card number. But there are many children under 17 who can use such a number. Plus there are adults who either don't have credit cards or who choose not to use them on the net. The only way an adult site operator can comply with the age restriction is to stop operating. Sorry folks, but this is America, and adults have a right to access adult materials.

It's based on false premises — Millions of children have been exposed to the hundreds of thousands of adult sites on the net. There so many kids porn surfing that whatever harm could be done, has been done. But is there one shred of scientific evidence that these millions of children have actually been harmed at all? Where's the damage, either physical or psychological? Is there an epidemic of childhood mental illness? Venereal disease? Hairy palms? Did I miss a report from the Centers for Disease Control?

I agree with at least one string from CHOP: "custody, care, and nurture of the child resides first with the parent." To the CHOP proponents in Congress: Repeat after me. "Custody, care, and nurture" is the role of parents, not of a paternalistic government. Contemplate the First Amendment. Learn about the Internet. Probe the scientific basis of your assumptions. Then shelve these half-baked attempts at Internet censorship and get back to what you do best: campaigning for re-election.

-- Seth Ross

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