I love US law. Really. Over the weekend I came across the Cyber Safety for Kids Act 2007. It’s brilliant. I know what you’re thinking … wasn’t there a Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2006. Yes, there sure was. Democrat Senators, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus on Montana faired so well with last years attempt to get a mandatory domain created for porn (or material ‘harmful to minors’), that they’re back with a new version which instead looks for mandatory tagging of all websites that contain such material byanyone hosting any material that could be deemed ‘harmful to minors’. The tags will be proposed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. And if I am reading this right they will maintain a list/database of who is tagged as what.
So far, so stupid.
It then pretty much copies COPA (Child Online Protection Act). Did the two Senators miss the part where that law was held unconstitutional? I Thought Judge Lowell Reed was pretty clear on that one. So you get the need for age verification pages; sites operated for ‘primarily commercial purposes’ are targeted; and a definition of minor that covers everyone from 1-18yrs (this is up a year from COPA’s 17 though). All in all, a quite spectacularly bad piece of proposed legislation.
Of course the labelling idea isn’t new. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called for the same kind of thing. And let’s not forget our old friend the Communications Decency Act which also had a go at labelling. The US federal Courts were less than convinced, even back then. Judge Sloviter in an often quoted passage from that District Court decision said:
“The Government’s tagging proposal would require all content providers that post arguably “indecent” material to review all of their online content, a task that would be 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. The Carnegie Library would be required to hire numerous additional employees to review its on-line files at an extremely high cost to its limited budget. The cost and effort would be substantial for the Library and frequently prohibitive for others. Witness Kiroshi Kuromiya testified that it would be impossible for his organization, Critical Path, to review all of its material because it has only one full and one part-time employee.”
Then and now, a good number of sites would have to look at EVERY page and tag them individually, not just putting blanket tags of the site as a whole.
Cyber Safety for Kids Act 2007 is not going to pass legal muster.