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COPA Commission: Educate police, public on online dangers to kids

By The Associated Press


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WASHINGTON — Local and federal governments need to spend significantly more money to train police and prosecutors to hunt down Internet predators in cyberspace and shut down Web sites containing child pornography, a congressional commission recommends.

In a report to be sent to Congress next week, the commission — created to protect children from explicit content online — also called for law enforcement agencies to create a master list of Internet sites that contain child pornography.

Rather than asking for strict new laws, the panel urges local and federal officials to implement a sweeping education campaign — both online and through libraries, community centers and schools — to identify the possible online dangers to children, encourage parents to monitor children's Internet activity and promote new technologies that screen out objectionable content.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the Commission on Child Online Protection's recommendations, which will be sent to Capitol Hill on Oct. 21.

In the report, the commission cautioned that governments need to "pay competitive salaries and benefits" to retain Web-savvy cops in an era where technical skills command high dollars.

"As law enforcement is training these officers in (Internet) issues, and getting them up to a point where they are effective and (have a good) understanding of the issues, they often just stay for a few years and move on to the private sector," said Michael E. Horowitz, the commission's representative from the Department of Justice. "The difference in salaries is so large on the tech side that we are losing people."

The panel of industry leaders, activists and government officials shied away from placing more responsibility on Internet providers to block online porn. Instead, it called for the adult industry to clearly label its content and work harder to keep kids away from its sites by using technology that verifies the identity and age of users.

The group also called for the adult industry to stop using two of its common practices — free, teaser pages that contain explicit photos and "mouse trapping," a technology that causes new windows to pop up containing porn when the user tries to leave a Web site. Congress should consider making mouse trapping illegal, the report urges.

The commission was created by the Child Online Protection Act, a sweeping law that required commercial Web sites to collect a credit card number or some other access code as proof of age before allowing Internet users to view online material "harmful to minors."

The law was immediately challenged as unconstitutional and has been blocked in federal courts.

Alan Davidson, a staff lawyer at the Center for Democracy and Technology who worked on the commission report, said the panel's recommendations show a shift in philosophy from the original law.

"The COPA Commission itself has provided really good reasons why COPA is not the right answer," Davidson said. "Top-down only gets you so far. At the end of the day, you have to have something on the family side if you're really going to make a difference."

The commission also is calling for law enforcement agencies to develop a list of Web sites, Internet newsgroups and other Internet destinations that contain child pornography to help law enforcement target violators, Davidson said.

The commission compiled lists indicating that about 100,000 Web sites show simulated or real child pornography.

"This is something that could be pulled together fairly easily from the federal agencies," Horowitz said.

While the FBI has a very successful campaign against child pornography, the commission's call for the investigation and prosecution of obscenity could be much thornier with the global reach of the Internet.

J. Robert Flores, a commission member and senior counsel at the National Law Center for Children and Families, said such challenges shouldn't deter the United States from making an effort to protect kids from hardcore pornography that is created overseas.

"The simple fact that it's difficult is the same problem we face with copyright, narcotics (and) international property laws," said Flores, who is also a former Justice prosecutor. "No one says to those, 'Gee, we can't control what other countries do.' "


COPA commission expresses concern with Net filtering systems
'The safety of our children does not come at the expense of the First Amendment,' concludes commission member Al Ganier.  10.23.00


Congress close to vote on Internet filtering for schools, libraries
But groups opposed to proposal say it is a bad way to stop minors from viewing online pornography.  10.18.00

Lott names COPA commission members despite legal challenges to law