April 12, 2007 10:27 AM PDT

Senators propose labels for adult Web sites

Operators of Web sites with racy content must label their sites and register in a national directory or be fined, according to a new U.S. Senate proposal that represents the latest effort among politicians to crack down on Internet sex.

The requirements appear in legislation announced Thursday by two Senate Democrats, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana, that they say will "clean up the Internet for children."

The proposal, which the senators describe as a discussion draft, relies on the idea of embedding a new tag--such as <L18>--in all Web pages that the government deems unsuitable for minors. Then future Web browsers used by minors could be configured to reject L18-labeled Web pages.

An earlier Web-labeling idea
The Department of Justice during the Clinton administration proposed Web labeling, but a federal court took a dim view of it. Here's an excerpt from the 1996 opinion.
The government's tagging proposal would require all content providers that post arguably "indecent" material to review all of their online content, a task that would be extremely burdensome for organizations that provide large amounts of material online which cannot afford to pay a large staff to review all of that material. The Carnegie Library would be required to hire numerous additional employees to review its online files at an extremely high cost to its limited budget. The cost and effort would be substantial for the library and frequently prohibitive for others.

"We want to keep our kids safe when they're on the Internet," Baucus said in a statement. "Parents and teachers shouldn't worry about their kids when they're on the computer at home or in the classroom. This bill will help keep kids safe and give parents peace of mind."

Web sites with "harmful to minors" content on pages that are initially viewable to visitors must use the tag to be devised by the U.S. Department of Commerce or face civil fines. Pryor's office says the federal government would be able to "shut down" noncompliant sites, but that portion is not actually in the bill.

Another section of the Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2007 would require the owner of any Web site with adult content on it to say so when registering the domain with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The owner must also give ICANN the Web site's Internet Protocol address and other information.

"The labeling part of it is going to be constitutionally problematic," said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "They are in essence requiring labels on this material. There are some cases that have talked about labels on movies, which is why that's 'voluntary' rather than government-mandated. They're going to have some problems with that."

Web labeling's checkered history
This is hardly the first time that the idea of mandatory Web labeling has surfaced in Washington.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called for it in a widely publicized speech in April 2006, and a Senate committee approved such a requirement that included prison terms of up to five years for anyone who did not comply. The Bush administration has repeatedly defended it as a "rather modest" proposal, though the full Senate failed to vote on the legislation last year.

It's not a partisan issue: the Clinton administration came up with the same idea a decade earlier by proposing the L18 label. The Justice Department's idea at the time, suggested during the Communications Decency Act court case, was that "indecent" Web pages would be rated as L18.

But a three-judge panel in Philadelphia took a dim view of L18. In a 1996 opinion, the judges called it "extremely burdensome for organizations that provide large amounts of material online which cannot afford to pay a large staff to review all of that material." (The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the panel's ruling.)

The current Democratic proposal--like the one that a Republican-dominated Senate committee approved last summer--is strikingly similar to the one floated more than a decade ago. One difference, though, is that the 1996 proposal referenced "indecent" material and this week's legislation requires labeling for "harmful to minors" content.

In practice, that difference may not be enough to let the measure survive judicial scrutiny. In a ruling last month, a federal judge said that discussions about proper condom use, news articles at Salon.com, and sexual education information at SexualHealth.com could be viewed as "harmful to minors" and therefore restrictions on them could run afoul of the First Amendment.

The current Pryor-Baucus legislation includes no exemption for news organizations, meaning that media outlets that do not rate articles or videos touching on sensitive topics could find themselves fined (or their domain names possibly deleted). If they do rate "harmful" articles, however, minors using certain Web browsers would be blocked from reading them.

Harmful to minors is defined in the legislation as any type of material that appeals to the prurient interest by depicting or describing an actual or simulated sex act--and lacks serious scientific, literary, artistic or political values for minors.

Besides L18, another likely candidate for a labeling scheme is a set of Web ratings created by the Internet Content Rating Association. The ratings refer to topics like "visible sexual touching" and "erections/explicit sexual acts." (See CNET's special report on keeping children safe online.)

See more CNET content tagged:
minor, proposal, label, senator, tagging

35 comments

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Ideally, this will be searchable as well.
That way it will help the smut providers by making it easier for those who want smut to find it, and I can easily filter it out so that I don't hit the wrong site by mistake and see something I don't want. Everyone wins, that is why it will never happen.
Posted by amadensor (248 comments )
Reply Link Flag
try searching "you must be over 18" or "adult content"
I put every flag i can on my adult web pages.

Additionally, the masthead image has a watermark that is readable by filtering software.

No matter what any webmaster does, if the parents don't install filtering software, it doesn't help.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Link Flag
How are you gonna stick the labels on all those tubes?
Thank you Senator Stevens.
Posted by JJWhitney (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is idiocy
Racy speech is protected speech to. When will the idiots in power get it through their thick skulls that the American people will no allow them to Rape the First Amendment.

First its porn, then written works, then Birth Control and health information. Administration politico has an embarassing scandal, sorry can't publish that info its racy.

If parents are concerned with what their children are up to on line then TEACH and MONITOR them. The government is not your nanny.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't see how a simple label infringes on free speech
Next you'll be saying that all content classification systems are in violation of the constitution. Curse that Melvil Dewey for raping our first amendment rights.
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Link Flag
One Word: Boondoggle.
I can sum up the motivations and realities of Congress on the subject with one big, fat template:

"The voters have told me that we need to do something about (Internet Pr0n)! This is something, so we shall do it!"

Jackasses.

How are they suppoed to enforce this outside of US borders? Who determines what is "racy" and what is not? Why can't anybody in Washington DC notice that there are already a number of successful and effective meta-tag content rating systems out there that work with most home censorware apps, and that the majority of porn sites online are more than eager to promote and use them?

Someone needs to give a couple of senators a hard kick in the head this week...

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Penguinisto...
You've missed the point entirely! The Senators just want to know where to find THEIR porn! :)
Posted by J_Satch (571 comments )
Link Flag
ACLU
Of course the ACLU is always "protecting rights", but I would like to see them be proactive and offer ideas to protect our children and others in ways they believe honors the Constitution.
Posted by snecoleman (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ACLU actions
Well, for one thing, I don't think the ACLU has any problems with parents taking an active role in monitoring their children's internet activities. Simple tasks like 1) not putting a PC in a kid's bedroom, 2) having parents install filtering software on their PCs, and 3) moving the family PC to an open area so that parents can monitor their kids' behavior are all constitutional.

The problem is, communication between adults should not be lowered to the standard that is appropriate to a 6-year old.
Posted by irondog1970 (821 comments )
Link Flag
Parenting
You'd like the ACLU to protect your kids- that's easy. It's called parenting. And BTW- the ACLU does protect your kids- by ensuring that your kids will still have rights when they are adults.
Posted by J0ebl0 (6 comments )
Link Flag
Requre PICS use for e-rate funding instead.
First it is silly to try an invent a new label, PICS has been around for a while (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.w3.org/PICS/" target="_newWindow">http://www.w3.org/PICS/</a>).

Second, rather then just blanket require all bad sites to label them selves, why not tie federal e-rate funding for libraries/schools too a law that would basically prevent schools/libraries from allowing access to any page that doesn't have valid PICS information.
Posted by zoredache (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Blatantly Unconstitutional
As not all content is rated and you cannot require content producers to do so, anyone relying on said institutions will be having constitutionally protected free speech censored.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Labels?
"Yes! We need more clear labeling on all those 'Pron' sites on that there 'Internets' thingy..." Anonymous Senator.

" That way I can find all that XXX rated Congressional Aides 'Pron' in a hurry! "

Hypocrits.
Posted by Llib Setag (951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Simple Solution
The easiest way to not run afoul of this law is to just label everything "L18". Everybody but disney.com and Nicktoons will do that. Then these so-called "kid's browsers" will be close to worthless. So some lamebrained politician will come up with another dumb idea and try to enforce it on everyone.

One thing the article didn't address is just how they think they're going to enforce this on foreign web sites.
Posted by alflanagan (115 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Porn: You know it when you see it
It's not so hard to identify the purpose of a site as a sex site. No problemo. Would a 15 year old boy be able to tell?? hihihi, of course. The effort to identify Porn would not be excessively burdensome (although many sites would surely try to make it a challenge in order to continue to avoid labeling).

One idea behind labeling racy stuff is to improve the ability to avoid it. Nowadays it's mixed in with everything as 'equivalent' speach and expression and therefore it's harder to avoid. Gathering porn into it's own neighborhood makes it that much easier to avoid that neighborhood and block it. Naturally the porn people and peddlers of internet viruses etc... want porn to be equivalent and mixed in with all other internet sites. They don't want to have to be conscientiously selected. People might not do that. The porners want to be supremely available to the masses at all times. They are not concerned about the Freedoms of expression and speach of the masses. They simply want to encroach upon the lives of the masses more easily. This isn't hard to understand.

Reach out and choose porn if we want to. Make a decision to do so. No problemo. But requiring the porn sites to be labeled for what they are and not mixed in with the rest of communcation as merely equivalent would diminish the power of the porn industry. Many people would avoid porn if it was a little bit easier to separate it out from their internet browsing. Many people would not conscientously choose porn. It isn't losing our ability to get porn just because we would have to be choosing it by reading a label not quite the equivalent as the labels on cigarette packages and alcoholic beverages stating the harm it does to our lives. Labeling of L18 would however diminish its presence in homes by setting porn apart from other communication and expression. And that would be better for my 4 children and for America.
Posted by jefframse (20 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Except that, this IS NOT, really, being done to "protect children"...
Frankly, those that keep pushing these "label", and "domain" isolationism schemes... dont really care one, DAMN, bit about "protecting" ANYBODY.

The primary purpose behind this is the power of -censorship-. Period. And, that IS "un-Constitutional". The fact is that every single time these sort of groups get any power, they immediately go on a crusade against every form of free expression, and opinion that they, personally, disagree with. This HAS ALREADY included; any form of discussion about normal sexual-behaviors, sexual-orientation, adult sexual-expression, art, and even, basic sex-education (such as "birth control", factual information about preventing STDs, and information about "abortion").

The real agenda of this, is CONTROL... Not just, control of ALL "sexual" content (MOST of which is legally-protected "Free Speech", by the way), but, control of ALL access to it (which is also a direct violation of the "First Amendment", according to the Supreme Court in many, many, rulings).

The REAL TRUTH behind this entire agenda can, actually, be expressed in a three word mantra...

..."Identify", "Isolate", and "Eliminate".

Thats the real reason, behind this.

But, on a more practical note...

Not only is this type of -censorship- literally IMPOSSIBLE to practically, or Constitutionally, implement (for the numerous reasons already discussed by many others), but, there is a far simpler, and already fully, legally, effective method to actually accomplish the "stated goals" (I.E. "protecting children")... That would be to use "kid-safe" "labels", and "domains". First, "legitimate" childrens-websites would be falling over themselves to apply a "kid-safe" label. And, "misuse" of such a label (to actually allow minors access to sexually-explicit materials) IS ALREADY a very-serious crime (under many currently-existing laws) in virtually every country in the world. In fact, in the United States, such behavior is already punishable by many-years in a Federal-prison.

So... clearly, this ISNT really about "...protecting children" (that is just a, tired, excuse).

And personally, as a parent, as an adult, as an Internet-user, and as a citizen... I am simply SICK of this constant, HYPOCRITICAL, NONSENSICAL, and ABSOLUTELY-ABUSIVE LIE, being resurrected again, and again, and AGAIN, by self-righteous social, and religious, extremists trying to SHOVE their own, personal, beliefs... down EVERYONE ELSES THROATS.
Posted by Had_to_be_said (384 comments )
Link Flag
RE
"It's not so hard to identify the purpose of a site as a sex site. No problemo. Would a 15 year old boy be able to tell?? hihihi, of course. The effort to identify Porn would not be excessively burdensome (although many sites would surely try to make it a challenge in order to continue to avoid labeling)."

Your forgetting one rather large detail, the bill says "harmful to minors", that a rather broadly defined term. Sure porn is obvious, but it's not the only content that will get swept up in this poorly thought out legislation. This law would put a chill on other legitimate speech besides porn because the definition is vague forcing content provider to err on the side of censorship. That's not something you want to see in a country that values freedom.


"One idea behind labeling racy stuff is to improve the ability to avoid it. Nowadays it's mixed in with everything as 'equivalent' speach and expression and therefore it's harder to avoid."

Under the Supreme Courts ruling from 1973, Miller v. California, speech is generally protected (with other exceptions) unless it can be found obscene. Finding obscenity requires taking the material to court and arguing a case. Let apply this idea to another area of protect speech/expression, religion. Would it be acceptable to require the labeling of religious content so people avoid it?


"Naturally the porn people and peddlers of internet viruses etc... want porn to be equivalent and mixed in with all other internet sites."

Porn and viruses aren't necessarily the same community. Unless the porn is obscene it is equivalent speech.

"The porners want to be supremely available to the masses at all times. They are not concerned about the Freedoms of expression and speach of the masses. They simply want to encroach upon the lives of the masses more easily."


I don't think you can speak for the intentions of a group you're not a member of. As I pointed out above, "harmful to minors" is quite broad and includes much more than porn. It is not as black and white as you apparently like to think. The people encroaching are the ones proposing laws like this one. They've been shot down again and again by the courts.


"But requiring the porn sites to be labeled for what they are and not mixed in with the rest of communcation as merely equivalent would diminish the power of the porn industry."

Any power the porn industry has is from the number of people who actively seek out and consume their content. The porn industry is hugely profitable, and I don't think people wanting to avoid an industry generate billions for that same industry.

"Many people would not conscientously choose porn."

So that justifies putting the burden on the content provider and not those who don't want it?


"any people would avoid porn if it was a little bit easier to separate it out from their internet browsing."

If you're finding porn you're probably not on a mainstream site.


"It isn't losing our ability to get porn just because we would have to be choosing it by reading a label not quite the equivalent as the labels on cigarette packages and alcoholic beverages stating the harm it does to our lives."

Unlike alcohol and cigarettes and much like the flap over violent games there is little hard evidence to support harm in porn or other content this law would cover. For every study that say it does harm you can find another that say the opposite. I a lot of the stuff against porn that I've been able to find has been funded by groups oppose to it. No even the government can agree on whether is harmful or not. In 1970, the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography concluded that "there was insufficient evidence that exposure to explicit sexual materials played a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior."
In 1986, the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography reached the opposite conclusion.


"Labeling of L18 would however diminish its presence in homes by setting porn apart from other communication and expression. And that would be better for my 4 children and for America."

I remain unconvinced.

"Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection,"--Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed Jr, In his ruling upholding previous bans on the enforcement of the 1998 Child Online Protection Act.

The requirements for registering an adult site with ICANN will no doubt cause another row over the level of control the U.S has over the internet. Right now very few countries want their policies on internet governance dictated by the U.S. I would hate to see what would happen if the U.S tried to unilaterally shutdown say a European website.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Everything is harmful to children
Real quick, like others have said, there are already ways to tag something as adult oriented. Also, this depends on people using a new browser that is not implemented yet. So older computers only capable of running Win 95 and 98 and NT (lets not start ragging on them, but they do exist) will not protect children. And what is going to *make* everyone upgrade their browser when people can't even update their computers enough to prevent so many virus and trojans and malware that have been fixed? That's assuming all they have to do is just an upgrade and not get a new browser. And if so many kids already know about and have seen Playboy magazines and porn on TV, there is clearly a lack of parental involvement or just plain loop holes and accidents, like a friends house, or skipping school, or forgetting to lock Dad's box under the bed, or forgetting to turn the filtering on after the parents have used the computer.

The main issue is "What is harmful to children?" Sure we can easily label pictures of people having sex. But how will medical advice work with this? A 13 year old kid can get any STD, or even pregnant, but if they look up STDs, any picture of it or mention of "rubbing lotion around the genitalia" will be banned. I bet that exact line could be found in poorly written porn and many medical texts.

And many other things are "harmful to children." Wal-Mart won't sell many automotive engine products or compressed air or white out or some household cleaners to people without a photo ID showing they are over 18. Aren't computer repair and automotive repair 2 jobs that kids can start in at an early age and grow to earn a good living at? So little Johnny is cutting grass for money and looks up stores that sell lawn mower engine oil. "WARNING WARNING - HARMFUL TO CHILDREN - SORRY." Tell that to Mexican girl Juanita and you've got the ACLU all over you.

And what about school? Some of what those kids wear is more revealing than what strippers wore 10 years ago. And guys pants that hang down always showing their underwear? A picture on the net of someone wearing underwear would be banned, but they could see it every day in person. Prime time TV would be history for watching on the internet. Even just normal over-the-air programs without cable, like Dancing With the Stars. Take just a freeze frame of that and compare it to a soft porn movie and tell me the difference.

The only way this could get any crazier is to teach children how to respect sexual body parts and not let that consume them. Or to not abuse white-out and sniff themself into a coma. While it's an unpleasant thought, ever notice that no one ever complains when someone makes a "joke" about Darwinism serves a purpose if a kid goes to the trouble to buy gallons of white out and sniff it for an hour straight.

When did "American" come to mean "wussy victim of everything in the world with no self control power or self reasoning ability?" Yes, there are special circumstances, and those should be repected. But imagine the god-like power of an individual who saw a picture of a naked person and just passed over it and continued on their way. Imagine the power of that same person who walked by the automotive area at Wal-Mart and did not stop to snort a bottle of STP. Imagine if a person understood the concept of cause and effect, of right and wrong, of consequences (good or bad) for their actions.
Posted by mikeburek (418 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Didn't Realize that All Internet Porn was US Based
I didn't realize that all internet porn was based in the US. This bill will do absolutely NOTHING to protect kids, since Congress does not have jurisdiction over adult content provided from overseas. This is merely a bill to make uninformed voters believe that their reps are doing something to protect kids.
Posted by J0ebl0 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So your solution is to do NOTHING?
So what do you propose? Do nothing whatsoever?

I'd rather see them do SOMETHING as opposed to what your solution appears to be.

What bothers you about having adult sites labeled as such, anyway? They're not saying they want to ban them. What's wrong with properly labeling them?

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
US Controls the Internet
You forget that Americans invented and continue to control the
Internet. No matter what officials say about all this public-
private nonprofit partnership stuff, and how the Department of
Commerce continues to assert that it has no interest in
regulating the top-level domains of other countries. The Internet
is controlled by the US, and will remain that way until it
fragments apart. The reason officials say all that nonsense is to
keep it from fragmenting, and likely the reason they wouldn't
move to shutter offensive Web sites (even though they are able
to) is to prevent that very same fragmentation.
Posted by cdiak (1 comment )
Link Flag
Isn't this totally subjective?
What is "harmful to minors" to one parent may not be to a different parent. What about, say, parents who are totally against hunting? Or who are totally against a specific religion, or race? Could they force certain certain websites to be registered?

When we try to enforce a nation-wide view of something so personal, it makes no sense.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bravo
My point exactly.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Protect our children
Perhaps we can make a more sensible law that simply bans all children from using the internet, watching TV and reading books.
That way they won't be exposed to anything harmful to their little developing minds.

Couple that with our modest "Mandatory homeschooling" bill and we'll have the safest children ever to be raised in the United States!

Demand action from your politicians on our progressive plan to save our children. How could anyone be against keeping the children safe?
Posted by Fireweaver (105 comments )
Reply Link Flag
creeping fascism
First we label porn sites, then we label sites supportive of gay rights, abortion, or stem-cell research. then we cram net non-neutrality down the public's throat and throttle access to those sites down to a slow trickle. Or maybe we just require ISPs to block marked sites altogether.

I honestly do not think this has not occured to the people making these rules. or that it's "paranoid".
Posted by blmuzzy (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
It's About Time
Better yet any site displaying "ADULT" materials should be mandated to have domain names ending in "XXX" This would allow a simple cheap way to block such sites and or restrict children access to sites containing "Adult" materials and photographs..
Posted by spock_dog (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
These Two Senators Must Be Kidding
"We want to keep our kids safe when they're on the Internet," Baucus said in a statement.

Awww... how concerned Sen Baucus will sound to his constituents. And what a radically innovative statement! Wwell, have YOU ever heard a senator (or anyone else for that matter) say "We want to keep our kids unsafe when they're on the internet"??

This is transparent crap, strictly self-serving to the two senators who wrote it, that wastes the Senate's time. No such bill will ever be approved because it's unconstitutional and more to their point, unenforceable on the extreme long shot it's approved.

Kids will ALWAYS find their way to adult content on the internet in particular, due to kids' computer savvy and due to kids' hormones. It really is as simple as that - where there's a will, there's a way. And these two idiot senators will soon get the point that they can't protect kids from being kids.
Posted by i_made_this (302 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is the parents that need to be held accountable for their children. Parents must be held completely liable for where &#38; what their children do. Many parents today want other groups &#38; organizations to exercise the parent responsibilities so they can blame others when their child has problems.
Posted by digger_d (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is the parents that need to be held accountable for their children. Parents must be held completely liable for where &#38; what their children do. Many parents today want other groups &#38; organizations to exercise the parent responsibilities so they can blame others when their child has problems.
Posted by digger_d (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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