Adults only-keeping kids away from porn
By Donna Rice Hughes
San Francisco Chronicle
The U.S. Supreme Court has given hope to parents trying to protect their
children from pornography on the Internet. When the justices agreed last
month to hear an appeal filed by the Bush administration, the Child Online
Protection Act may yet - despite the opposition of self-styled liberations
- become the shield it was intended to be.
The law, enacted by Congress in 1998 and signed by former President Bill
Clinton, requires commercial pornographers on the Web to obtain adult
verification before allowing users to view pornographic material deemed
by the law to be harmful to minors.
The law has not been enforced since it was challenged by the American
Civil Liberties Union, a challenge upheld by a federal appellate court.
What is the ACLU objecting to?
While much of the dot-com world has experiences a business downturn, the
cyberporn industry is booming. Forbes magazine in 1999 estimated e-pornographers
are raking in $1.5 billion annually.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department under former Attorney General Janet
Reno failed to defend the law that President Clinton signed. And it refused
to move against any online hard-core porn, even that which fills the legal
definition of obscenity. That definition includes images of sex acts,
bestiality, rape and excretory porn, all of it just a few mouse clicks
away from children.
A report last year from the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children’s Online Victimization disclosed a quarter of the nation’s
youth between the ages of 10 and 17 have been exposed, against their wishes,
to online pornography. Unsuspecting kids are led to hard-core cyberporn
by way of innocent words searches such as “dolls,” equally
innocent-sounding site like “boys.com” and inducements with
brand names like Pokeman.
The child-porn ban was designed to protect children from such explicit
material primarily by requiring the use of a credit card, adult PIN (personal
identification number) or digital signature before a user can access free
images on such sites. It is aimed only at commercial purveyors of porn
on the Web and uses the legal standard of material considered “harmful
The aim is to wall off such material from children while allowing consenting
adults easy access. The law does not apply to non-profit sites or to commercial
sites that deal with sex education, sexual orientation, abortion or other
serious treatment of sexual information.
The law is simple, practical and easy to implement. So why all the censorship
hoopla from the ACLU?
The issue isn’t freedom of expression or, as opponents also claim,
one of technical feasibility. It’s ideology. The ACLU says it opposes
“all limitations of expression on the ground of obscenity, pornography
or indecency.” Since the organization does not accept that children’s
access to Internet pornography is a problem in the first place, it chills
every reasonable attempt to prevent it.
The ACLU also Claims that the “harmful to minors” standard
is “confusing.” But the phrase is a legal term with a precise
definition. It is the basis for porn magazines being poly-wrapped or placed
behind blinder racks in bookstores and convenience stores across the country.
Civil libertarians would rather parents use filtering technology to prevent
their kids viewing online porn. While the use of filters is important,
it does not address the need to place a measure of responsibility on the
source of the problem – the commercial cyberporn industry.
The commission that worked on drafting the online protection act found,
based on a survey by Family PC magazine, that only a minority of parents
Interestingly, while the ACLU points to the accessibility of filtering
as a reason to oppose the Child Online Protection Act, it opposes the
implementation of filters as called for in the Children’s Internet
Protection Act, which requires school and libraries to implement the technology.
Ultimately, this case is not about principles of civil liberty, it’s
about money. The Child Online Act requires porn Web sites to either remove
free “teasers” from front pages accessible to children, or
install adult verification features before users are allowed to view these
At hearings, cyberporn merchants acknowledged that the tease is key to
getting a potential consumer to make that “impulse” buy. Without
the freebie, revenue will drop.
But that’s their problem. If you’re going to be in the “adult”
business, then do business only with adults.
Only if required by law will the cyberporn industry act responsibly
to shield children from material which is legally deemed harmful to them.
Donna Rice Hughes, whose relationship with then-Sen. Gary Hart ended his
presidential bid in 1988, is a national campaigner against cyberporn accessible
to children. A member of the Child Online Protection Act commission, she
is the author of “Kids Online: Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace”
and an adviser on Internet safety issues for FamilyClick, an online filtering
service based in Virginia Beach, Va.