Kids and the Internet

Are More Laws Needed to Protect Kids Online?

(Nov. 10) – The Internet is a fixture in most kids’ lives, but there is broad disagreement over the best way to protect children from things they shouldn’t see online – and what role, if any, new laws should play.

A federal court this month is revisiting the Child Online Protection Act, which threatens criminal penalties for commercial Web site operators that allow children to access material that is “harmful to minors.” The law, passed by Congress eight years ago, has never gone into effect because of a legal challenge from free speech advocates. The Supreme Court has ruled the law is likely unconstitutional, and prevented the Justice Department from enforcing it until it is reviewed by a lower court.

The Justice Department and child safety groups say the law would stop pornography at its source by requiring sites to demand age verification, such as a credit card, before allowing access to explicit content. Opponents argue that the law is overly broad and poses a threat to free speech, since much of the material deemed inappropriate for children, such as news photographs or sexual health information, is legal for adults. One of the central disputes in the case is whether children can be adequately protected by Internet filtering software.

What is the best way to protect kids from inappropriate online content? The Wall Street Journal Online invited Richard Whidden of the National Law Center for Children and Families, a nonprofit group that has lobbied for COPA and similar measures, to debate the issue with John Morris, a First Amendment lawyer who argued the Supreme Court case that overturned COPA’s predecessor, the Communications Decency Act.Their email conversation is below.

Read it here.

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