Congress, Content Regulation, and Child Protection: The Expanding Legislative Agenda

6 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2008  

Adam D. Thierer

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Date Written: February 6, 2008

Abstract

Though not yet complete, the 110th session of Congress has already witnessed an explosion of legislative proposals dealing with online child safety, or which seek to regulate media content or Internet communications in some fashion. More than 30 of these legislative proposals are cataloged in a new joint legislative index that was released today by the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Progress & Freedom Foundation, compiled to help keep track of the growing volume of legislative activity on these fronts.

Many of the measures highlighted in the index raise serious free speech concerns. The proposals can be grouped into Analog Era (pre-Internet) versus Digital Era (post-Net) platforms or forms of content that they would affect. Meanwhile for bills introducing education initiatives, while it would probably be more sensible for the Department of Education or the FTC to be awarding appropriate grants, the focus on education and empowerment is commendable. Finally, a significant number of the measures introduced this session call for stepped up enforcement efforts aimed at combating online child predation or child pornography, for which the provisions are relatively uncontroversial, but can run into dangerous territory when they call for sweeping data collection mandates on Internet Service Providers.

While Congress is right to take steps to protect children against actual harms - namely, child predation and child pornography - it would be unwise for lawmakers to expand the censorial schemes of the past. The better approach for potentially objectionable, but legal, content is to use education and empowerment-based strategies. Parents already have a multitude of tools, controls, and information at their disposal to establish their own household standards regarding acceptable media content. In the face of a growing legislative agenda, it is important for those concerned about speech and privacy rights to remain vigilant.

Keywords: online child protection, free speech, child safety, online safety, online regulation, internet regulation, parental controls, online content, SAFER NET Act, internet safety, online protection, adult websites, online predators, social networking sites, Bean Bill,FTC,CDT,PFF

JEL Classification: D18, I2, I20, I28, O38, O33, L82, L96

Suggested Citation

Thierer, Adam D., Congress, Content Regulation, and Child Protection: The Expanding Legislative Agenda (February 6, 2008). Progress & Freedom Foundation Progress Snapshot Paper No. 4.4. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1092163 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1092163

Adam D. Thierer (Contact Author)

Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

3351 Fairfax Drive
4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201-4433
United States

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