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Mandatory web labeling resurfaces in Congress, 11 years later

The idea of Web labeling has a long and undistinguished history. I 
remember encountering it while covering the Communications Decency Act 
trial in April 1996, when Brigham Young University Professor Dan Olsen 
said labeling adult Web pages with "-L18" was a terrific idea:
http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/EFF_ACLU_v_DoJ/960413_ciec.update

As an aside, I always figured that Olsen was the only remotely 
respectable fellow the Justice Department could dredge up to do its 
dirty work, even though his bio shows no publication or research in this 
area:
http://icie.cs.byu.edu/dan.html

Now, showing an impressive inability to learn from history, two 
Democratic senators have come up with the same scheme; I've summarized 
it here:
http://news.com.com/2100-1028_3-6175549.html

Senators Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana are proposing 
that the Commerce Department come up with a label that "harmful to 
minors" Web sites must use (or face civil penalties). I've placed the 
draft of their bill here:
http://www.politechbot.com/docs/child.safety.act.pryor.baucus.041207.pdf

Oddly, Pryor seems to have not even read his own legislation; an earlier 
version of his press release said the Commerce Department could also 
pull the plug on offending Web sites, though that is not actually in the 
draft bill (I'm told it was in an earlier version):
http://pryor.senate.gov/newsroom/details.cfm?id=272199

Both congresscritters could stand to learn from the CDA three-judge 
panel's opinion, which called mandatory labeling "extremely burdensome 
for organizations that provide large amounts of material online which 
cannot afford to pay a large staff to review all of that material":
http://www2.epic.org/cda/cda_dc_opinion.html

Another intriguing aspect is that their legislation tries to compel 
ICANN to create a database of harmful to minors content, complete with 
IP addresses and owner names. This nicely disproves the pleasant fiction 
that ICANN is an independent entity that can make independent decisions 
on topics like .xxx and materials that some Bible Belt prosecutor deems 
harmful to some minors, somewhere.

-Declan

Posted by Declan McCullagh on Apr 13, 2007 in category free-speech


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