Social Networking Web Sites Come under Scrutiny

In an effort to protect teens from sexual predators on social networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook, the House approved legislation last week that would effectively make school administrators responsible for policing the Internet.

The Deleting Online Predators Act (H.R. 5319) would require schools that receive E-rate grants to certify that they have a policy in place to monitor the online activities of minors; block access to material that is obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors; and prohibit access to social networking Web sites or chat rooms “through which minors may easily access or be presented with obscene or indecent material.” The House approved the measure, 410-15, on July 26.

Voicing his support for the E-rate program, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) stated, “I have seen the tremendous educational value which the Internet has brought to students throughout our district, and I recognize the importance of the E-rate in making that a reality. However, as with all technologies, the Internet is a double-edged sword, and Congress does have the responsibility to ensure that, to the extent that a federal program is involved, like the E-rate, it is doing all that it can to ensure that children are protected from online dangers. This bill represents another step in making sure that online experiences at school and the library are safe.”

Arguing that the bill would “delete legitimate Web content from schools and libraries,” Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) said that during committee hearings “there was not one mention of online child exploitation being a problem at schools or libraries. Perhaps this is because there is already a law on the books that requires schools and libraries who receive E-rate funding to monitor children’s Internet use and to employ technology blocking children or preventing children from viewing obscene and harmful content. Many schools and libraries already block Web sites such as MySpace. This legislation is largely redundant and raises many constitutional concerns.”

With a packed schedule this summer, the Senate is not expected to take up the legislation until September at the very earliest.

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