Keeping Online X-Rated Content Away From Kids
Administration, computer execs meet to discuss filtering software
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 16) -- Now that the Supreme Court has said no to Congress' attempted Internet crackdown, the Clinton Administration wants to give parents better software filters to help keep online, X-rated material away from their children. (384K wav sound)
Administration officials met with computer industry executives at the White House today, and afterward, President Bill Clinton said there was a consensus on "how to pave the way to a family-friendly Internet without paving over the constitutional guarantees to free speech and free expression." (352K wav sound)
In June, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down parts of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, saying Congress' attempt to keep young eyes away from "indecent" material on the Internet amounted to an unconstitutional infringement on adults' free-speech rights.
So, instead of government regulation, the administration is pushing voluntary self-restraint, coupled with better identification of kid-friendly sites and better access to software that permits parents to limit the Web sites their children may view.
Vice President Al Gore, who hosted today's meeting, said the Internet can revolutionize how children learn, but it also carries "a lot of material that just isn't fit for children."
The filtering software allows parents to restrict access to the plethora of online sex sites.
"We have tools out there which are 100 percent available," said Jerry Berman of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a group that works to protect computer users' civil liberties.
The center plans to debut a new Web site that would give parents information on how and where to get free smut-screening software. All the major Internet access providers offer the screening technology for free or at a nominal cost, the center estimates.
Critics of the filtering system argue that, much like the controversial TV ratings system, the computer industry cannot rate content to parents' liking. The screening technology requires practically every Web site in the world to rate itself. But others say it's an effective tool for parents to block unwanted content from entering their homes.
Steve Case, president of America Online, said the filtering software isn't enough by itself, though. "These tools aren't a replacement for good parenting, but rather a supplement for it," Case said.
No final industry-wide voluntary plan was expected to come from today's meeting, but some companies were expected to unveil plans.
For instance, Netscape plans to announce it would back a software standard allowing people, using a Web browser, either to block or select certain Web sites based on electronic labels on the sites. The company's next browser product would use the technology, the company said.
Microsoft's Explorer browser already uses the standard, dubbed PICS, which can work with more than one labeling or ratings system. Parents using a browser with the PICS technology could, for example, call up Web sites designated to be "family friendly" or they could block sites labeled "violent" or "sex-filled."
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