Sunday, July 30, 2006

Deleting Online Predators (Unless They're Non-Profits)

The U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 (DOPA), this past Wednesday. I first became aware of this thru Brad Hachez, and found other good reading on the matter at Library Technology in Texas, Women's Policy and a great list of links at Librarian in the Middle.

Rather than repeat much of the pro and con arguments on the matter that others have so well put forward in the above citations, I'll just point out a couple of things.

First, the act makes a curious distinction in calling for "amend[ing] the Communications Act of 1934 to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms." (Emphasis added.) Why are "commercial social networking websites and chat rooms" any more likely to harbor online predators than noncommercial ones? I mean, if NAMBLA (set to nofollow, natch!) set up a noncommercial chat room somewhere, does it make sense for it to be exempt from the act?

Another interesting point: The definitions of "social networking site" and "chat room" will be determined within 120 days of the passage of the bill. The entire internet is becoming a social networking site. Even my humble blog has become a way for people to socially network. Will all blogs be subject to whatever definition the bozos in Washington come up with? And with the fast and freewheeling nature of the internet these days, and the speed with which folks dream up new ways to use it, how long will it take any definitions to become superseded by the reality of new technology?

The most insightful analysis I've read came from Michelle Collins, the director of the Exploited Child Unit of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) (as quoted at Women's Policy):

[Collins] shared the outcome of a “Dialogue on Social Networking Sites,” which NCMEC hosted in June. The discussions on the popularity and misuse of this technology and ways to help keep children safer demonstrated that “operators of social networking sites don’t want their customers to be endangered by their sites, but at the same time want to remain competitive in this booming market.” She further stated that “more restrictions will cause teens to go somewhere else that has fewer restrictions, with the unintended consequence of increasing their chances of being victimized.” Ms. Collins emphasized the importance of education and teen engagement in ensuring children’s online safety.

What, the unintended consequence of a law that aims to protect children from predators might be that more children actually become easier prey?! But the government has the right intent, so that must count for something, right? We all know the intent of the minimum wage is to help poor people out, so we all ignore the fact that it hurts many poor people whose skill sets are not worth the minimum wage! We all know that the War on Drugs aims to save people's lives from misery, so we all ignore the fact that more innocent people have died from stray gunfire as a direct result of drugs' illegality than ever would have died from the drugs themselves. I guess the logic is parallel here.



Linking to: Conservative Culture, Amboy Times

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