The Internet Parent
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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

With DOPA, Congress gets it wrong...AGAIN

House votes to restrict students from MySpace

Sounds like a great headline, and you wouldn't expect me to disagree with the sentiment, given my previous posts and positions on the matter. But DOPA isn't smart legislation.

Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Ohio), who introduced the DOPA act, described social networking sites as "a happy hunting ground for child predators." No argument there.

DOPA also follows CIPA in using the carrot and stick of federal funding to compel public schools and libraries who want the funds to provide a “technology protection measure” to protect “against access by minors without parental authorization to a commercial social networking website or chat room, and informs parents that sexual predators can use these websites and chat rooms to prey on children.” And the Supreme Court has found CIPA's "funding weapon" to be legally acceptable. So far, so good from a constitutionality perspective.

SO...what's wrong with it?

It's in the definition of the sites that should be blocked. Simply put, collaborative networking sites covered by the bill include dangerous locales like MySpace, but also wikis and blogs that are educational and relevant. WikiPedia is a fantastic resource. So are many other collaborative sites that bring in contributions from a broad community of participants. And while you might not think The Internet Parent is among them, it's pretty clear that many blogs can offer pithy, informative, and relevant analysis of current events.

We have a real problem here, no question about it. But passing flawed legislation is not the way to solve it. We need tougher, smarter legal minds (and, frankly, smarter social scientists and mental-health professionals) working this problem.

To be clear, I strongly disagree with Michael Gorman, the President of the American Library Association, when he said in their May 15th press release, "We know that best way to protect children is to teach them to guard their privacy and make wise choices. To this end, libraries across the country offer instruction on safe Internet use." What a bunch of self-serving hooey!

These are kids we're talking about. That's why they have parents, guardians, and the protection of the community/government/state when we feel we have a compelling interest in their safety. Abdicating our responsibility to provide kids with a safe place to grow and learn by saying, "Well, we've trained them to be responsible..." is akin to letting underage kids buy alcohol after taking a drinking-awareness course. Kids are kids. As the responsible adults in the room, we're supposed to be protecting them.

I'm not satisfied that we're doing our best. Oh, no. Not satisfied at all.


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