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Senate passes competing Internet filtering proposals

The Associated Press


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WASHINGTON Senators grappling with how best to monitor the Internet in schools passed two competing proposals yesterday, leaving it up to a joint panel to develop a compromise.

The proposals — one by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the other by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. — both seek to put certain safeguards in place as the number of schools hooked up to the Internet continues to grow.

But some senators say the McCain amendment is too restrictive for the nation's schools.

The McCain amendment would invite the Federal Communications Commission "to be the de facto national censor," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "This broad self-censoring imposed by the McCain amendment on schools and libraries will lead to a chilling of free speech to the detriment of our nation's children and library patrons," he said.

Thousands of schools have started getting connected to the Internet through a 1996 subsidy known as e-rate, which is funded through higher phone bills for customers.

About 82% of the nation's public schools are participating in the program, senators say.

McCain's amendment, which passed 95-3, would require schools and libraries who benefit from the subsidy to install some form of blocking or filtering technology to restrict children's access to pornography and other obscene material. Voting against McCain's amendment were Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wisc., Sen. Robert Kerrey, D-Neb., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

"As we wire America's children to the Internet, we are inviting these dirt bags to prey upon our children in every classroom and library in America," McCain said. "Parents, taxpayers, deserve to have a realistic faith that, when they entrust their children to our nation's schools and libraries, that this trust will not be betrayed."

But detractors complained that McCain's amendment, by allowing the FCC to certify that schools are using the proper filtering materials, gives the agency too much authority.

Santorum's amendment, which passed 75-24, gives schools the option of installing the blocking technology or developing an Internet use policy.

"The community, not the federal government, will determine what matter is inappropriate for minors and what is the most effective way to protect children," Santorum said.

The two plans, which were attached to H.R. 4577, a massive spending plan for the departments of labor and health and human services, will now have to be worked out before a conference committee of Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

A less controversial and non-related Internet amendment, offered by Leahy and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and attached to the McCain plan, would require large Internet service providers to begin offering filtering software to customers over the next three years.