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Deceptive Source Code Law Part of Adam Walsh Act
By: Layne Winklebleck (Free Speech Coalition)
Washington, DC — The mandatory labeling bill by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) called the “Stop Adults’ Facilitation of the Exploitation of Youth Act,” or “Internet SAFETY Act,” (S.3499) thankfully did not get out of committee this year. (See X-Press report, “Senate Bill with Heavy Penalties Introduced, 6/16/06) However, one of the provisions of the Internet SAFETY Act has found its way into the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, (H.R.4272) which just passed both houses of Congress and has already gone to President Bush for signature. (See X-Press report, 2257 and Obscenity Provisions Part of Child Protection Bill, 7/21/06)
Echoing the language in S.3499, Section 703 of the Adam Walsh Act (page 161 in your program if you are using the FSC website PDF) deals with “Misleading words or digital images on the Internet,” and amends the penal code by inserting the following (18 U.S.C. §2252C):
(a) In General — Whoever knowingly embeds words or digital images into the source code of a website with the intent to deceive a person into viewing material constituting obscenity shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not more than 10 years.
(b) Minors — Whoever knowingly embeds words or digital images into the source code of a website with the intent to deceive a minor into viewing material harmful to minors on the Internet shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not more than 20 years.
18 U.S.C. §2252B in the present code already has penalties for persons who knowingly use domain names to deceive, except that the penalties in the new section are drastically different. Knowingly using a misleading domain name with the intent to deceive a person into viewing obscenity carries fines and/or a penalty of not more than 2 years; knowingly using a misleading domain name with the intent to deceive a minor into viewing material that is harmful to minors on the Internet did carry fines and/or a penalty of not more than 4 years. However this maximum sentence has been increased from 4 to 10 years in the Adam Walsh Act.
Section 2252B at least has the virtue of being reasonably clear, so that individuals can pretty much guess if they might run afoul of the law by having a Website called Teddybears.com; and the maximum penalties — which in a rational world would be civil rather than criminal — at least don’t rise to the armed robbery range. But twenty years? There are simply too many words in the world with too many meanings. Take the word “toy” for instance: Boy toy, sex toys, S/M toys — lots of toys in the world before we ever get to Toy’s R Us. Ambiguities and multiple meanings make for too many opportunities in the enforcement of this law for prosecutors to construe an intention to deceive when none exists.