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Safe spot on Net planned for children

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Safe spot on Net planned for children

Bush likely to sign bill to set up area

By David Ho, Associated Press, 11/17/2002

WASHINGTON - Congress is sending President Bush legislation to create a safe haven on the Internet for children, where pornography and unmonitored chat rooms would be banned.

The measure would make a ''.kids.us'' domain. The area would be available within a year and would be monitored by a government contractor, to ensure that its material is appropriate for children younger than 13. The bill won unanimous approval from the Senate on Wednesday and from the House on Friday. It now goes to Bush, who is expected to sign it.

''Kids need a safe place to go on the Internet,'' said Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who introduced the bill in the Senate. ''This is our nation's best chance to guarantee kids an online experience that is fun and age-appropriate from start to finish.''

Web sites wishing to register in the ''dot-kids'' area within the US Internet domain would have to agree to display only child-friendly material.

The sites would be prohibited from linking to Internet sites outside the kids area. Instant messaging or chat rooms also would be banned unless they are certified as safe, protecting children from Web predators.

The legislation defines Web content as harmful to children if it depicts sex or nudity, if it is clearly sexual in nature, or if it ''lacks serious, literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.''

Critics, including some civil liberties groups, said the new domain would do more harm than good.

In a letter sent to lawmakers before the bill passed, Alan Davidson, associate director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology, said the legislation has good intentions but ''would be ineffective at protecting children.''

One problem, Davidson said, was that the age range was too broad - material suitable for a 12-year-old may not be right for a younger child. If the material is restricted for the youngest children, older kids won't be interested, he said.

''Many parents will find that limiting their children's Internet activity to `.kids.us' will not be a solution to keeping them safe online,'' Davidson said. ''And the company administering the domain would be required to make decisions for millions of children that would be better made by families.''

Congress wants that company to be NeuStar Inc., a Washington firm that has managed the ''.us'' country domain for a year. The company has another three years in its contract and would get a two-year extension if it agrees to manage the children's domain, a Dorgan aide said.

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration would oversee NeuStar, which would monitor the domain and remove anything it finds objectionable. There would be procedures for Web site operators to contest decisions to remove their content.

Davidson said extensive Web site policing would be needed and would probably fall short of what parents expected. He said Internet safe areas developed and run outside the government would be more effective.

James Casey, policy director for NeuStar, said the company is up to the task.

''We have to make sure we do it right for the children,'' Casey said.

The House also sent Bush a bill Friday allowing small Internet music broadcasters to pay lower copyright royalty fees. Those businesses say the measure is key to their survival.

If the broadcasters grow sufficiently, they would no longer be entitled to pay the lower fees.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 11/17/2002.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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