Sen. McCain reintroduces Internet censorship bill


Just when you thought it was safe to surf the Web





\nWASHINGTON, D.C. - If at first you don't succeed, change\na few words, give it a new name, and reintroduce your bill to\nCongress the next session.

This seems to be the advice Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ernest\nHollings, D-S.C., are following. Last year, they introduced but\nfailed to see enacted the Internet School Filtering Act, a bill\nwhich would have required schools to install filtering software\non their computers. The Senate voted 98-0 to attach that bill\nto a large appropriations bill, but it never happened because\nof spending conflicts with the House.

This session, the senators introduced a revamped version of the\nbill called the Children's Internet Protection Act. The bill\nis designed to protect children from exposure to sexually explicit\nand other harmful material when they access the Internet at school\nor at a public library.

"Websurfers using seemingly innocuous terms while searching\nthe World Wide Web for educational or harmless recreational purposes\ncan inadvertently run into adult sites," McCain said in a\npress release.

The bill gives schools that use a filtering system on their computers\na universal service discount to help pay for Internet connectivity.\nLibraries will receive the discount if they use filtering software\non one or more of their computers.

The main difference between the Children's Internet Protection\nAct and its predecessor is the rewording of the censoring standard.\nThe vague "inappropriate for minors" standard in the\nold bill has been replaced by a "harmful to minors"\nstandard. The harmful to minors standard is also employed in\nthe Child Online Protection Act, a law which was passed in October\nbut whose constitutionality is currently being challenged. (See\nCOURT, page 5).

The Children's Internet Protection Act's constitutionality was\nquestioned at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in March. Witnesses\ntestified that the bill violated First Amendment rights and infringed\non the ability of communities to develop their own solutions to\nregulating the Internet.

"Mandatory Internet filtering in public libraries and schools,\nparticularly if mandated by the federal government as a condition\non E-rate access, raises serious legal and constitutional problems\nand threatens to frustrate the tremendous potential of the Internet,"\nElliot Minchberg, legal director for People for the American Way,\nsaid at the March 4 hearing.

But proponents of the bill argue that it will not infringe on\nfree speech rights in any way.

"The purpose of the bill is to provide technology to schools\nand libraries," said Pia Pialorsi, press secretary for the\nSenate Commerce Committee. "It is totally up to the local\ncommunities what technology they want and how they want to use\nit."

Pialorsi said if schools only wish to block violent sites but\nnot pornographic ones, they would still receive the discount.\nAnd if schools do not wish to use filtering software at all,\nthey simply do not receive the discount.

Pialorsi said she is confident the bill will pass, just as the\nInternet School Filtering Act did before it was dropped from the\nappropriations bill. The Senate will next decide if it wants\nto schedule the bill for mark up. \n


reports, Spring 1999