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Internet Safety — The Right Way

Last week and, as we hoped for, the Louisiana legislature unanimously passed legislation (SB 500) designed to protect child safety in the face of exploding usage of Internet social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.  The bill is now on Governor Jindal’s desk.

Lawmakers rushing in response to a well-publicized child safety issues may not a surprise.  But, what may raise eyebrows is the fact that bill was well thought through and not a knee-jerk publicity-friendly response.

It goes without saying that legislators want to protect children from the perceived threat of Internet predators.  Their goal is well-intentioned. 

However, most of the early bills to take on this threat showed little understanding of how the social networking sites worked, how individuals interacted, and the realities of the threats of online predators.  This led to bills that would require age and parental verification.  These laws were unworkable and ineffective, and would have the unintended consequence of giving parents and kids a false sense of security.  Just this year, states like Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, and Illinois introduced these bills.  All were scuttled.

Instead of merely working to convey the downsides of the verification legislation, NetChoice brought together member companies MySpace, AOL, Interactive Corporation (IAC), Microsoft and Yahoo! to draft comprehensive model legislation that would advance the principles of education, parental empowerment, and law enforcement to truly have the greatest impact on online child safety. 

Much of this draft legislation is based on rules passed or proposed in different states that take on a single element of the holistic effort.  For example, the NetChoice companies found that Nevada had passed a law requiring Internet Service Providers to make parental control software tools available to customers and that Virginia has taken the lead for requiring and developing Internet safety curricula for schools and used both measures as primary resource in refining the model legislation.

Since NetChoice and its member companies took on this proactive effort, Georgia and Indiana passed legislation influenced by the model bill.  Louisiana is the third state and includes more elements of the model legislation than other efforts yet.

Sponsored by Republican State Senator A.G. Crowe, S.B. 500 contains the following measures promoted by NetChoice and member companies:

— Educates Children. The legislation provides school districts with online safety curricula for children and educational materials for parents, and requires teaching online safety in the classroom.

–Increases Post-Conviction Controls on Convicted Sex Offenders. The legislation sets sentencing and parole guidelines that require the state to monitor the online activities of convicted child predators. The legislation also allows judges to impose restrictions on the online activities of convicted child predators.

–Helps Preserve Internet Evidence for Law Enforcement Investigations. Online services must preserve and disclose customer communications and other evidence upon request of law enforcement officials.

–Expands the Reach and Enforcement of Child Porn Reporting. The legislation adds state enforcement powers and broadens the scope of online companies that must report images of child porn to the Cyber Tip Line at NCMEC (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children).

— Helps Online Companies Screen for Sex Offenders. The law makes the email addresses and the instant messaging names s of sex offenders available to commercial or non-profit entities, including child safety organizations, educational institutions, and online services, for the purpose of protecting children from sex offenders.

For a listing of all the measures that NetChoice recommends, go here.

NetChoice and its member companies will continue to collaborate with educators, law enforcement officials and policymakers in other states to create awareness about the model legislation and its potential impact on keeping children safe online.

-Braden Cox