July 30, 2006

"DOPA" - HR 5319, Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006

The "Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006" (DOPA) act was recently passed. To quote Library Journal for a summary:

"This unnecessary and overly broad legislation will hinder students' ability to engage in distance learning and block library computer users from accessing a wide array of essential Internet applications including instant messaging, email, wikis and blogs," said ALA president Leslie Burger. "Under DOPA, people who use library and school computers as their primary conduits to the Internet will be unfairly blocked from accessing some of the web's most powerful emerging technologies and learning applications. As libraries are already required to block content that is "harmful to minors" under the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), DOPA is redundant and unnecessary legislation." DOPA would extend CIPA by tying receipt of E-rate funds to blocking social networking and other sites. The legislation now will go to the Senate, which ALA said may or may not have time to vote before their session ends for the year.

I was going to sit this one out because of preaching-to-the-choir, but Kent Newsome asked my thoughts (disclosure: he's said nice things about me), so here's a rundown, and an attempt to say a few thing not everyone else has said.

1) We've been here, this is called "moral panic"

Set the WayBack machine for ten years ago, and you'd see similar articles about AOL. Here's a good one, from *1995*


AOL wants to have its cake and eat it, too. It wants a family system that appeals to kids. It also wants to keep making money off the hotchat crowd. And it's terrified that the Microsoft Network is going to eat its lunch, so it's selling harder than ever.

Unfortunately, in the process it's built a system that makes it easy for predators to operate, and has then turned around and aggressively marketed it to prey. AOL had better figure something out. As it stands, this is not going to end well for it.

2) Observe the slippery slope in action

I don't know how many times the point has been made that once censorware was woven into the fabric of school and library Internet access, racheting up the blacklists would be very easy. The next moral panic, the next political campaign to pander to social conservatives, the next time a demagogue needs a hot button to push, it's just the flip of a switch. Here's another proof.

3) However, this particular law matters less than one might think

Broad application of censorware blacklists is already in place

* Federal law requires Internet blocking only of sites with certain visual depictions -- such as "obscenity" -- yet, some libraries have gone beyond this obligation, choosing to censor other types of material as well, including such ill-defined categories as "gambling" and "illegal" sites.

* The minimum blocking level that the software system for the state's public libraries has adopted for all computers exceeds what federal law requires, so that even libraries opposed to unnecessary filtering are forced to deny patrons access to protected material.

* Many libraries in the state [of Rhode Island] have done little to make patrons aware of their legal right to gain access to information blocked by the deeply flawed "filtering" software now in use.

People just don't hear much about it, since the civil-libertarians generally have no money to publicize the issue. Which brings us to:

4) Politically, Republicans fighting _Fox News_ is a sign of desperation

I suspect this bill is part of the Republican election strategy, of pandering to the right-wing base. Flag burning, gay marriage, the recent "Teen Endangerment and Grandmother Incarceration Act", it's all red meat for the campaign. However, MySpace (social networking site) is owned by the same enormous corporation which owns Fox News, and they can fight back. If anyone is able to exploit this potential wedge between the theocrat and plutocrat wings of the Republican party, the result could be interesting indeed.

5) Singing "What's The Matter With Kids Today?" never goes out of style

Just on general principles, there tend to be few arguments more futile than lecturing about what youth *should* do. And the youth are usually not around to defend themselves. But "DOPA" is dramatically beyond legislating morality - it's legislating against interactivity.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on July 30, 2006 02:20 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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