Thursday, June 29, 2006

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U.S. Bill Targets Chatrooms, Social Networking
By: Rhett Pardon (Courtesy of XBIZ.com)
Posted: 7/29/2006

Washington — The House of Representatives Thursday passed legislation that would effectively expand an earlier law called the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which requires libraries and schools to filter sexually explicit material.

But the current target isn’t online adult websites again.

This time around it’s the sites that offer chatrooms and social networking, which would be rendered inaccessible to minors. With the bill, adults would be able ask for permission to access the sites.

Called the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA, the bill could eventually expanded because it does not define chatrooms and gives more leeway to the Federal Communications Commission, which would oversee its enforcement, in devising a category of unacceptable websites.

Even though Congress meant to restrict access to MySpace, Friendster and Facebook, the bill’s definition of verboten websites is so broad that it could sweep in thousands of other commercial websites that allow surfers to post profiles, include personal information and allow “communication among users.”

“Nearly any news site now permits these types of behaviors that the bill covers,” said Mark Blafkin, a spokesman for the Association for Competitive Technology.

With the bill, thousands of sites would be off-limits, including message-board sites like GFY.com, JBM.com, and even blogs that include some form of chat.

Tech lobbying groups and Democrats were taken by surprise by the speedy approval of DOPA in the House, which was OK’d 410-15.

“So now we are on the floor with a piece of legislation poorly thought out, with an abundance of surprises, which carries with it that curious smell of partisanship and panic, but which is not going to address the problems,” said Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat. “This is a piece of legislation which is going to be notorious for its ineffectiveness and, of course, for its political benefits to some of the members hereabout.”

DOPA applies only to schools and libraries that accept federal funding, which the American Library Association estimates covers at least two-thirds of libraries.


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