HR837 – Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth Act (SAFETY) of 2007

Apparently Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) isn’t the only one trying to revive DOPA. Texas Representative Lamar Smith (R) introduced legislation, cosponsored by seven other Republican representatives, to the House on February 6th which intends “To amend title 18, United States Code, to protect youth from exploitation by adults using the Internet, and for other purposes.”

In essence it holds Internet content hosting providers and e-mail service providers legally liable if they or one of their subscribers “knowingly engages in any conduct the provider knows or has reason to believe facilitates access to, or the possession of, child pornography…” The bill goes well beyond Internet Service Providers by further defining an Internet content hosting provider as any service that:

(A) stores, through electromagnetic or other means, electronic data, including the content of web pages, electronic mail, documents, images, audio and video files, online discussion boards, and weblogs; and
(B) makes such data available via the Internet

The definition as written could be construed to mean any service such as mySpace, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and countless others, perhaps even your own blog. If the bill had stopped at at “knowingly engages,” it would be entirely understandable as an overt commission of a crime. My concern is focused on the text following that statement: “…or has reason to believe…” What parameters define ones reason to believe, and what constitutes, as the bill states, “negligent failure” to report child pornograpy?

The bill later sets record retention requirements for Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Section 6 give the Attorney General carte blanche to issue these parameters but hold that the regulations “…shall, at a minimum, require retention of records, such as the name and address of the subscriber or registered user to whom an Internet Protocol address, user identification or telephone number was assigned…” Failure to comply with these record retention requirements will result in a fine and/or a year’s imprisonment.

The remainder of the bill echoes Ted Stevens’ SB37 in increasing fines and prison terms for the exploitation of children and for activities relating to material constituting or containing child pornography. It also requires warning labels on commercial websites containing sexually explicit material. And Section 12 cites an authorization of appropriations to the tune of $30 million dollars for each FY 2008-2012 “to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to carry out the Innocent Images National Initiative.”

The problem with this bill, as with DOPA and Senator Stevens’ latest incarnation, is that it employs fear to manipulate the public into accepting this loss of freedom and personal privacy. As a father, I am all for protecting our children from predators, online or otherwise. But I am not foolish enough to believe that allowing the government to track all online activities will serve that end.

We do need to protect our children, but that begins with education and awareness at their level, not at the governmental level. If the old adage that knowledge is power holds true, then I would rather that knowledge be in the hands of our children, that they could learn to protect themselves.

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