DMA Politically Direct (Summer 2008): Internet Alliance Supports Laws Cracking Down on Sex Offenders Online
August 27, 2008 — A dangerous trend in Internet regulation emerged in the states this year. Seven states introduced bills that would require interactive Web services to verify the identity, location, and age of each user. The bills would also require that parental consent be obtained for minors.
DMA maintains that these proposed requirements cannot be accurately carried out. Requiring age verification and parental consent, DMA asserts, could give parents a false sense of security about their children’s safety. The fact is, most children under the age of 16 do not have age verification documents. Further, these proposed bills do not require physical presence for verification, and positive identification cannot be identified remotely.
DMA also maintains that obtaining parental consent would also be very problematic. Simply filling out a form would not prove that the supposed parents or guardians are who they say they are.
Further, the parental consent requirement would require any interactive Web service to verify the location and age of each user. Since no databases exist, public or private, that social networking sites could use to verify such information, such verification is not possible.
DMA asserts that states should consider bills that would require convicted sex offenders be subject to continual supervision of all incoming and outgoing email, as well as periodic unannounced examinations of their computers by a parole officer, law enforcement officer, or assigned computer information technology specialist.
DMA also believes that funding should be awarded for police and prosecutors to obtain additional tools and training to investigate, identify, and prosecute cyber criminals. Further, it should be illegal for a sex offender to access social networking sites, and bills should be enacted to make it a felony for any person 18 years of age or older to knowingly solicit a minor online.
The Internet Alliance is urging state legislatures not to debate age-verification bills for the time being. Alliance members are currently participating in the Harvard Berkman Center’s Internet Safety Task Force, which was developed as part of a Web safety initiative from MySpace and the nation's attorneys general. The task force, which is required to produce quarterly reports, is evaluating various Internet safety technologies, including social networking age-verification tools.
The task force released its first report April 30, 2008, and is scheduled to release its final report on December 31, 2008. To learn more, visit www.cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/isttf.
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