June 27, 2006 5:20 PM PDT

Senators adopt Web labeling requirement

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
Web site operators posting sexually explicit information must slap warning labels on their pages or face prison terms of up to five years, according to a proposal adopted by a U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday.

During a day of debate on a wide-ranging communications bill, the Senate Commerce Committee approved an amendment backed by the Bush administration that proponents claim would help clean up the Internet and protect children online.

It says that commercial Web sites must not place "sexually explicit material" on their home pages upon pain of felony prosecution--and, in addition, they must rate "each page or screen of the website that does contain sexually explicit material" with a system to be devised by the Federal Trade Commission.

"This will protect children from accidentally typing in the wrong address and immediately viewing indecent material," said Sen. Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican who is the co-founder of the Congressional Internet Caucus.

Burns said that politicians "have to take a bold step in this world of danger to our kids, and there are some people out there who prey on young children and they use the Internet and other methods to feed their sickness."

Civil libertarians have opposed the mandatory labeling proposal, saying it violates the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. Also, courts have taken a dim view of mandatory rating systems: In a 1968 case called Interstate Circuit v. Dallas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dallas' ordinance requiring that movies be rated was unconstitutional because the criteria for rating were unclear and vague.

Burns' seven-page amendment is virtually identical to a standalone bill introduced earlier this month by Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican. Both proposals follow from a speech in April during which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called on Congress to "promptly" enact such a law.

Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, had planned to offer a "very similar" amendment and Senate aides would combine the two before a floor vote, said Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who serves as the committee chairman.

Stevens also postponed discussion of what has proven one of the thorniest provisions of the massive telecommunications bill: Net neutrality. Senators plan to begin debate on that topic on Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, with votes on a number of amendments expected.

The entire communications bill won't become law unless it receives final approval by the committee and, later, the full Senate. It must also be reconciled with a House of Representatives version that differs in many respects, including having no Internet labeling requirements.

 

Correction: This story misstated the maximum prison time a U.S. Senate committee proposal recommends for failure to post warning labels on Web sites containing sexually explicit information. Convicted offenders would face up to five years in prison, according to the proposal.

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Once again they've proven they don't understand the internet
and have opted for quixotic legislation in what is no doubt an attempt to win votes by some endangered members. What congress has consistantly failed to realize is that the internet is no longer confined to the U.S, it is global in scope. A law requiring U.S sites to label content does nothing about the masses of porn avaliable from over seas. So for them to claim this protects child is laughable and demonstrates a tragic lack of understanding by those that support such bills. It's unfortunite we allow congress to legislate in a medium they clearly don't get. It also unfortunite that unless some black and white guidelines are provided it is likely this law will result in a lot of unnecessary self censorship because if you not sure a guess wrong it's a felony and 15 years in jail.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Can You Tell If You Need To Label
So you think this doesn't apply to your little vacation website with the cute pictures of your girlfriend in her bathing suit. Guess again. Have a banner or two selling t-shirts? You're a commercial site.

And how about clearly defining what needs to be labeled. Fat chance.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/2100-1028_3-6085610.html?part=rss&#38;tag=6085610&#38;subj=news" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/2100-1028_3-6085610.html?part=rss&#38;tag=6085610&#38;subj=news</a>

"According to federal law and prior court decisions, the term "sexually explicit material" used in the Justice Department and now the Senate proposal covers not only various forms of sexual intercourse and abuse but also "lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person," even if clothed.

By that logic, "it would appear that the Victoria's Secret Web site may be sexually explicit," said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union."

Sexual and adult images are in the eye of the individual. The government can't even define what is "obscene" let alone "sexually explicit". Here's what the vaunted law says on that:

A work is considred obscene if it meets all three of these criteria:
"(a) whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards," would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, . . . (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

Get me 20 people and three porn tapes and I'll bet not half will agree on which ones are obscene.

Supreme Court Justice Douglas said it right when he wrote in the desent:
"Those are the standards we ourselves [* we meaning the United States Supreme Court ] have written into the Constitution. Yet how under these vague tests can we sustain convictions for the sale of an article prior to the time when some court has declared it to be obscene?"

So consider, make a mistake, and don't put the label on, and welcome to being cell buddies with a convicted murderer or rapist for 15 years. Don't worry, your children can see you on Visitor's Day. Be sure to have them bring cigerettes.

Is this nothing but another bit of election year grandstanding destined to be over turned by the Courts. But then again, these politicians don't have to pay to fight an unconstitutional law, the public does.

Remember that next time your parents can't afford their persciptions because Medicare dropped them because of lack of money.

Vote this Fall. Vote these people out.
Posted by David Trammel (66 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lovely. Landing people in prison for 15 years for not labeling a website.
Is there not more important "crimes" to prosecute. Oh, that's right, the far fight zealots need this to keep up the police state industrial complex. If they keep this up, every american will be a registered sex offender by the end of '07, if not sooner. These people are out of their gourd. They must be secretly into some rather kinky stuff to want to enact this to stop themselves from looking.
Posted by MisterFlibble (207 comments )
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We need more jails!
With mislabeling of a website, you're open to doing more time
than most rapists and murders.

And where are we going to house all these people? I can't afford
the tax increases required to pay for all the new prisons we will
need to construct (construction to be provided by Haliburton), as
our Congress and this Administration seeks make more citizens
into criminals.

Welcome to new U.S.S.A. -- where your Constitutional Rights are
but a fantasy!

(and no, I'm not for child pornography. I just don't think this will
do ANYTHING towards stopping that. It is just a great cover
story while the government controls what you information you
have access to, what you say, and what you do!)
Posted by m.meister (278 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Build Labor Intensive Factories in Jails....
... that would kill several birds in one stone. Solve the China - US trade deflect, reduce tax payer burden, and provide harsher punishments (20 years for rape sounds great for a start).

In fact, the jails should be sold to and operated by private companies. The private jail operators should pay the government on a per prisoner per month basis, and they get to do whatever they want to do with the prisoners that period (aside from killing them).
Posted by shawnlin (75 comments )
Link Flag
Trims the Liberal Voting Pool
IIRC, if you get convicted of a felony, don't you lose your right to vote?

Maybe all these excessive prison terms are just a way for the far right to cut back on the growing tide of porn watching left leaning liberal voters.

Just a thought...
Posted by David Trammel (66 comments )
Link Flag
You folks voted for LESS freedom
Well, you got it.
Posted by (156 comments )
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Election time must be nearing
Time to start talking about the destruction of society caused by smut, video games, oxygen, red pens and everything else you can name.
Posted by (156 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nincompoops
They won't accept the .XXX designation but they'll send you to jail for not warning children that you have explicit material.

Gee if I was a kid that would be like a red flag in front of the bull. Oh boy oh boy oh boy....
Posted by t3b3r8 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yeah right
Most of the comments above make absolutely no sense. In case you don't know, there is nothing lascivious about your girlfriend in a bathing suit. What would definitely be lascivious is a close-up picture of your girlfriend crotch that does not leave much to the imagination (and, in that case, I'd definitely not want my kids seeing this picture).

I fail to perceive why such requirements are seen as a threat to our liberties. After all, we also have the liberty to choose what our kids get exposed to, and the liberty not to be assailed by offensive material.
The example of Victoria's Secret's website is quite telling : it is a sexually arousing website by any standards. What you can see on this website is more than enough to arouse most people (and we should therefore make sure that children cannot access it).

Once again, the ACLU shows its true nature. They are not interested in defending free speech and our constitutional rights (are they trying to ban MPAA ratings too ?), but rather in undermining the very foundations of our country, and corrupting the youth to serve their evil purposes (among other things, mass killing).
What does this legislation have to do with civil liberties? They're not banning porn, but simply making sure kids will be protected.
Posted by damienlittre (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's about not living in fear
&lt;&lt;In case you don't know, there is nothing lascivious about your girlfriend in a bathing suit. What would definitely be lascivious is a close-up picture of your girlfriend crotch that does not leave much to the imagination (and, in that case, I'd definitely not want my kids seeing this picture). &gt;&gt;

Best check that thought with actual case law:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/Gonzales+calls+for+mandatory+Web+labeling+law+-+page+2/2100-1028_3-6063554-2.html?tag=st.num" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/Gonzales+calls+for+mandatory+Web+labeling+law+-+page+2/2100-1028_3-6063554-2.html?tag=st.num</a>
"In practice, courts have interpreted those definitions quite broadly. In one case, U.S. v. Knox, the Supreme Court and an appeals court ruled that the "lascivious exhibition" of the pubic area could include images of clothed people wearing bikini bathing suits, leotards and underwear. That suggests, for instance, that photos of people in leotards and bathing suits would have to be rated as sexually explicit if the commercial Web site owner wanted to avoid going to prison."

If she's cute and someone can argue she's sexy enough to turn them on, you best be labeling that site.

&lt;&lt;I fail to perceive why such requirements are seen as a threat to our liberties.&gt;&gt;

The threat is excessive punishment based on unclear and undefined criteria. The same with the MPAA ratings. They are subjective and ill defined. Get two people, let them watch a movie and see if they agree whether a scene merits a certain rating. Movie makers face this all the time. The MPAA censors are inconsistent with their decisions.

No one argues that children or people that don't want to see sexual images must be forced to do so. We argue that passing a law with such excessive punishments, especially with no clear cut definitions of what is or isn't a crime is wrong.

There are better ways to address website labeling but they don't make headlines in an election year. And passing yet another bill that has previously been ruled unconsitutional by the court, and wasting tax payer money fighting it again, isn't it.

&lt;&lt;What does this legislation have to do with civil liberties? They're not banning porn, but simply making sure kids will be protected.&gt;&gt;

This has nothing to do with protecting children but everything to do with squashing the right of people to live without fear.

Look again at Justice Douglas' comments. When a government makes an action a crime, yet doesn't define what that action is, it sends a chilling effect across all of society. When the choice is speaking your mind, which may carry financial ruin defending yourself in court (and possibly prison) or not speaking, the vaste majority of the public will not speak.

The First Amendment is not about the will of the majority, the First Amendment is about protecting the minority from the tyrancy of the majority.


"When even one American, who has done nothing wrong, is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth, then all Americans are in peril."

Harry Truman
Posted by David Trammel (66 comments )
Link Flag
Not Your Nanny
If you want your children "protected" from porn, then be a parent and supervise them. The Government is not your nanny.

Of course, what can we expect from fruitcakes that think swimsuit catalogs are "objectionable".

This, sir, is most definitely about protecting individuals from the tyranny of the masses.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
 

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