September 18, 2006 5:55 PM PDT

Justice Dept. defends mandatory Web-labeling bill

WASHINGTON--The U.S. Department of Justice has stepped up its defense of a proposal to imprison Web site operators who don't label pages containing sexually explicit material.

The idea, outlined in an April speech by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, is approaching a vote in Congress. Even though there have been no hearings, the legislation has been attached to two separate measures--a massive communications bill and a bill to fund large portions of the federal government including the State Department--that are likely to be considered by the full Senate this fall.

The proposed restrictions are no different from requiring multipurpose stores like 7-Eleven to shield pornographic magazines with so-called blinder racks, Larry Rothenberg, an attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy, said at a panel discussion here hosted by the Internet Caucus Advisory Committee on Friday.

"We have what we consider to be a rather modest (proposal) to protect consumers," Rothenberg said. "This is not censorship. It's not a major break with First Amendment principles."

His critics, however, remained unconvinced. "There's no way to avoid vagueness, no way to avoid overbreadth, and, more important, no way to avoid chilling free speech," said Leslie Harris, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Under the proposal, all commercial Web site operators would have to place "identifiable marks or notices," to be determined by the Federal Trade Commission, in the code of each page that contains "sexually explicit material" as defined by existing U.S. criminal statute. The idea, supporters maintain, is to make it easier for Web-filtering programs to pick up objectionable sites.

Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, was the first politician to latch onto the Justice Department's plan, introducing a bill in June that mirrored its demands but upped the possible prison sentence to a 15-year maximum.

That bill hasn't gone anywhere on its own, but its major components have since appeared in two seemingly unlikely places: as amendments to the massive communications bill approved earlier this summer by the Senate Commerce Committee and to a 2007 spending bill that will fund the Commerce Department, the Justice Department and some science-related agencies. Both amendments reduced the possible prison sentence to two and five years respectively.

Although the future of the Senate's communications bill remains up in the air, thanks to an ongoing tussle over the concept of Net neutrality, the spending bill's approval is a virtual inevitability.

The question that remains is whether the Web-labeling proposal will be altered or rewritten, as it's hardly unusual for amendments to be altered at the last moment. The issue may not be resolved for several weeks. An aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it's unlikely the spending bill will be voted on until after the November elections. (This is not the first time a measure designed to target sexually explicit speech on the Internet would be attached to a spending bill: It's happened at least once before.)

Civil liberties advocates blast the approach as overly sweeping. That's in part because courts in the past have ruled that the same definition of "sexually explicit" referenced in the legislative proposal could be applied to fully clothed genital areas, making perhaps unintended sites fair game. The proposals do offer one minor carve-out: Content that constitutes only a "small and insignificant part" of a large Web site does not need to be labeled.

"When you have a label that applies to hard-core porn, Victoria's Secret, an episode of 'The Sopranos' from HBO, and an outsider artist that has a Web site, and all of them put the same label on, you don't have a label that empower parents," the CDT's Harris said. "You just have a label that will disappear vast swaths of the Internet from peoples' viewing."

An absence of hearings on the Justice Department's proposal and the hasty amendments indicate that Congress is trying to sneak through a bad proposal without proper vetting, opponents argued. The best way to protect consumers and children from Web content they don't wish to see, they said, is for the government to encourage education, innovation on the filter and parental-control front, and collaboration with the Internet industry.

It may be a good idea for Congress to hear additional testimony on the matter, but that wouldn't diminish the need for such a law, the Justice Department's Rothenberg said, adding: "At the moment we happen to think we're well-intentioned and rightly guided, and that's why we're moving forward."

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.

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15 comments

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First, three words...
-IDENTIFY-
-VILIFY-
-ELIMINATE-

Rhetoric 101... In other words... BASIC PROPAGANDA and POLITICAL-MANIPULATION.


>> "The proposed restrictions are no different from requiring multipurpose stores like 7-Eleven to shield pornographic magazines with so-called blinder racks"

Does this person know that the national parent-company, that owns "7-eleven" WAS already intimidated into refusing to carry "adult magazines" at all, ...by a small, but highly-vocal group of self-righteous, right-wing, censorship-mongers, ...who used the threat of exactly this type of proposed legal-threat, to intimidate the company into compliance..?


>> "This is not censorship. It's not a major break with First Amendment principles."

Yes, it most certainly IS a step towards "censorship". Anyone, with any common-sense sees that, that, CLEARLY IS its intended-goal. And, this most certainly IS "...a major break with First Amendment principles." (at least with virtually EVERY "U.S. Supreme Court" (and MOST "Federal Court") decisions regarding such methods which effectively "suppress" ("chill") Constitutionally-protected "Free Speech".

But, now, a few logical-questions...

-How long until ISPs are held responsible for delivering such "content", which travels through their networks, and are required, BY LAW, (or, through various intimidations from "local groups", are thereby compelled) to block it..? Please dont bother mentioning "common-carrier" status as a rebuttal... since this same administration HAS ALSO been desperately trying to make such, control, "liability", and answerability, to government-agendas part of an, all-encompassing, legal-reality on the Internet.

-Who can decide what is "sexually explicit"..? Legally..? Unambiguously..? Trans-Jurisdictionally..? And, without violating "Constitutionally Protected Free-Speech"..?

The code referenced, in the article actually, uses such terms and descriptions as; "simulated", "lascivious", and "producing, directing, manufacturing, issuing, publishing, or advertising".

Seems pretty broad, and vague, to me, especially given the basic technical-realities of "the Internet"...

And, this "definition" also includes an already "struck-down" (by the Supreme Court) section containing legal-prohibitions against; "...any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means..."

-Also, what about the millions, upon millions, of web-pages hosted outside the United States..? Is the Government going to stop (and/or require inspection of) ALL traffic from outside the U.S. Internet... thereby, effectively isolating the U.S.-Internet from the rest of the world..?.

-And... "15 YEARS"..? Seems pretty steep. Especially, considering just how broadly this nonsense could actually (and undoubtedly WOULD) be applied. I would describe any such legal-threat as... quite "CHILLING".

-And, what about the clearly, MORE, "Constitutionally-Protected" NON-commercial web-pages..? So, is free-"porn", exempted..? And, what defines "commercial"..? The last time this "proposal" rolled around, it was pointed out that the "law", as written, could be used to throw "tea-cozy" sellers in jail, ...if their web-site contained any "sexual material", related, or unrelated, to the primary purpose of the "web-site".

-And, what constitutes a "web-site"..? Each web-page..? ...Associated Web-pages..? ...The server..? ...Ownership..? All of these questions have created "legal" issues, on their own.

Finally, ALL of this could be rendered absolutely-pointless by the OBVIOUS "work-around" for "commercial web-pages", ... namely, EVERY-SINGLE "commercial" WEB-PAGE would quickly be altered to contain the appropriate "...might contain sexually explicit content" "tag", as part of a standard "header". Otherwise ANY web-page creator, HOSTer, or supplier, would be risking "15 years" in a Federal-Prison.

So, this proposal actually serves NO REAL PURPOSE, AT ALL, ...except promoting an extremist-agenda, and possibly gaining the "prude" vote at election-time.

What a waste of time.

God, how Ive begun to despise the stupidity, and arrogance, of some politicians.
Posted by Had_to_be_said (384 comments )
Reply Link Flag
not 'yet' censorship
As this bill tags, rather than bans, it's not 'yet' censorship. People can still opt to view the porn.

All of the adult cable channels are clearly labeled so that you can choose lock them out, why not adult internet content.

Whatever the implications of this bill are, it remains a fact that somethng has to be done to keep porn away from our children, and there are so many 'first amendment' groups out there who seem intent on preventing parents hsving the tools to do it.
Posted by perfectblue97 (326 comments )
Link Flag
Ludicrous
It would be funny if they weren't serious.

Fine, so the mind/thought police clamp down on all "questionable" sites  in the US that is. But unless things have changed since last nite, it's still the www - not the wusw (wide US web). This law will have no effect whatsoever since you can't police the world with your US laws. So all the sites elsewhere in the world which don't fall under US jurisdiction&.

Unless they take the next logical step and begin banning non-US IPs.

You may laugh or cry but that's the step this is heading.

Already here in the EU there are a number of US sites that won't allow access since the request does not originate from inside the US.

Putting this into law is a strong step down a nasty slope of removing the US from the www.
Posted by FredJones34 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Both ways plz
There is a law of physics that states: Porn will find a way.

That said, I welcome this flagging of adult content - at least as long as search engines let you use it to filter the adult content IN and not just OUT. There is nothing more frustrating than searching for "boobs" and get pictures of George and Dick with photoshopped clown's noses in between what you really were after.
Posted by JadedGamer (207 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Boobs
Boobs George and Dick. Hehehehehehehe.....
Posted by js33 (12 comments )
Link Flag
try searching "YOU MUST BE 18"
of ocurse that would also let you VOTE for "boobs"
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Link Flag
DIGIMARK is FREE for adult marking
DIGIMARK offers free unlimited watermarking for adult still photos.

The major child protection filtering clients can see this mark.

The mark persists through resizing and other modifications of the image.

Thus even if adult images were to be emailed or re-posted on some other (un-marked) website, kids would be protected.

A simpler law might be to require all websites with adult content to have a landing page with no offensive material on it. There are so many times that i see (accidentally, of course) have a "you must be 18 to enter" disclaimer surrounded by explicit images.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Web Site Design for Porn Free Landing Page
The idea of having a landing page to gateway entry to a web site has some technical requirements. Basically, it requires that all pages be served as dynamic content (ie: As a "Server Side Scripting" Page) so that the page that supplied the URL can be identified and if you try to deep link (ie: bypass the landing page) you will automatically get served the Landing page instead (possibly a special dynamically generated version where the Enter Button will direct you to the URL you tried to use).
Posted by rarpsl (34 comments )
Link Flag
porn makes the internet go 'round
all of the technologies that we take for granted on the internet are the driect result of pioneering adult websites: online payment via credit card, streaming video, web cams... you name it, porn perfected it.

so before you yell "**** TEH CHILDRENZ!!!" think about what porn means to the internet.
Posted by chris__anderson (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re: internet go 'round
And this is exactly why the Internet was created by the US
Military and why the US National Science Foundation created its
backbone. To share porn.

"Pioneering" adult websites? They are not the pioneers of the
Internet. Adult web site producers are just users like the rest of
us.
Posted by salli-d (4 comments )
Link Flag
The Internet is for the big kids only.
Why is the Internet considered the exception? There are labels
on CDs, labels on television programs and movies, even iTunes
labels individual songs and Podcasters are forced to label
podcast that contain explicit material or use explicit language.
Why not the Internet?

The xxx domain, labels. Yes, let us oppose every measure that
is suggested. Such things would be an infringement on
someone's rights. That would be censorship. Kids shouldn't use
the Internet to research school assignments anyway. Why would
we want to create an Internet for everyone? The Internet is for
the big kids only. The Internet being used for research? As if
that is what the National Science Foundation intended. And
while we are at it, let us just forget about Section 508 and
creating accessible web sites also.

I can think of a few "labels" I would like to give those who
oppose this bill.
Posted by salli-d (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
big kids only
First off, you should take a read at what "Had_to_be_said" had to
say to this article -

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/5208-1028-0.html?" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/5208-1028-0.html?</a>
forumID=1&#38;threadID=21259&#38;messageID=185368&#38;start=-187

The upshot of his comments are (and I'm quoting him directly
here) "this proposal actually serves NO REAL PURPOSE, AT
ALL, ...except promoting an extremist-agenda, and possibly
gaining the "prude" vote at election-time."

Had_to_be_said also uses an apt comparison - would you let
your children play on the freeway unsupervised? We could make
that safe too.

THE WORLD IS NOT A SAFE PLACE FOR CHILDREN TO BE
RUNNING AROUND - THAT'S WHY THEY ARE DEPENDENT ON
THEIR PARENTS!!! If today's parents would just get that concept
through their thick skulls, most of the problems children face
today would vaporize.

As for the labeling on music, movies and programs, the
entertainment industry enjoys a lot of free "advertising" for
those labels. Many parents don't pay attention to the labeling
and kids are anxious to get to play more "mature" rated stuff.
The internet doesn't need this, in part because it won't be
profitable for anyone.

Consider this, let's say this passes and becomes law of the land.
What land? Will this be enforcable in Taiwan? Or is this just going
to be another "tool" to go after the "unsavory" here in the US? If
so, how does that make anyone's kids any safer?

I would argue that the WORLD is for the big kids only, big kids
who are SMART ENOUGH to see through an obvious political
sham such as this. Unfortunately we seem to be the minority and
some people will just buy into this without once turning on their
brains. Until they face 15 years in prison for posting pictures of
their family reunions and are arrested because someone in the
background was wearing a bathing suit (yes, the bill is written
that vaguely!).
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
Re: The Internet is for the big kids only.
The Internet should NOT be an exception. This is not going too
far. Some of the crap available from a single click is absolutely
ridiculous.

However, I have to disagree about the Internet being used for
research. There is good research material available via the
Internet if you can find decent sources.

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
Isn't all traffic potentially hazardous?
When I was a kid my parents never left me alone to play in the traffic, because the roads were dangerous and I could get hurt.

Why do so many parents think internet traffic is any different?
Posted by SRTII (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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