October 17, 2000 11:30 PM PDT

Candidates offer insights to Net policies

As Al Gore and George W. Bush sparred over a variety of issues during Tuesday night's debate, they each promised to use the Net to solve some of the nation?s ills.

Farmers, Gore said, could take part in "Internet-based activities" as an extra source of income in tough times. He also proposed to cut federal spending by continuing to push government services online.

But perhaps the most interesting discussion came when a member of the audience asked the candidates if a deal could be struck with Hollywood to stem the flow of pornographic images and foul language in movies, music and other forms of entertainment.

Bush took the opportunity to endorse a Republican-backed bill calling for federal money to support smut-blocking software in public libraries and schools so "if kids get on the Internet, there?s not going to be pornography or violence coming in."

The bill, introduced in the Senate by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rick Santorum, R-Pa., was attached to an appropriations bill that could get a final vote this week. Civil libertarians, industry executives and conservatives have blasted the filtering effort. While Bush didn't mention the bill in his response, he made it clear he supports the proposal.

Gore, on the other hand, said he favored a one-click feature that allows parents to check on their children's surfing.

The filtering question has been hotly contested for several years. Civil libertarians believe much of the filtering software on the market blocks legitimate sites, violating First Amendment rights. Some conservative groups, however, view the technology as a necessary protection for children who could become unwitting victims while surfing the Net.

Under McCain's proposal, any school or library that did not install software to filter out pornography would lose its federal dollars intended to help it buy Internet access.

The presidential debate took place at Washington University in St. Louis. Unlike the previous two debates, this one featured questions from the audience, and the candidates were free to pace on a carpet as they addressed the audience.

 

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