NetChoice Testimony Before

Thank you for this opportunity to testify. I’m Braden Cox, Policy Counsel at the Association for Competitive Technology. I speak today on behalf of the NetChoice coalition, a coalition of leading e-commerce companies including eBay and Yahoo.

I’m going to speak specifically to oppose the parts of Senate Bill 132 that apply to commercial social networking web sites.There are different ways to address Internet safety. SB 132 takes one route – age verification and parental consent and access – but let me suggest that this route is fraught with technical difficulties and more importantly, fails to address the two most important ways to increase online safety – education and prevention. Educating children as well as their parents and teachers, and preventing predators from the ability to harm our children.

First, it’s impossible to use online methods to precisely determine a child’s age.

Minors do not have access to documents that are widely accepted for verification of identity and age, such as a driver’s license. Nor do minors have the track record to answer “out of wallet” questions that ask about monthly car loan and mortgage payments.

I’ve heard that Attorney General Roy Cooper ask why is it that lottery tickets and wine can require you to be adult online, so why can’t MySpace? Well, there’s a physical presence required for both wine and lottery. Upon deliver carrier checks ID. Redeem winning ticket – check ID. You’ll hear John Cardillo speak more about the problems with age verification later.

SB 132 also requires parental consent, and that parents can access their child’s social networking pages. 

I’m not aware of any effective method to identify which online users are minors, or of verifying that a person whom a user designates as their parent is in fact the parent. 

Let me stop here for a second. Age verification and parental consent attempt to restrict children’s access, but they do nothing to actually make social networking or other Internet web sites safer. And it doesn’t educate parents about ways to make sure their kids are behaving safely online. These failures will provide a false sense of security for parents in the ongoing education and monitoring of their children.

As the National Research Council pointed out in a report, “Youth, Pornography and the Internet,” “Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All these measures are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one’s children is to teach them to swim.”

So what can be done to help teach children (and their parents) to surf – if not swim – the web safely?

An answer to this question may lie in a 2004 study by U. New Hampshire Crimes against Children Research Center.

2,500 cases where juveniles were victims of sex crimes by people they met through the Internet.

Those children-almost all of whom were teenagers-were not the victims of the classic scenario everyone fears: “strangers who are pedophiles lure a child into situations where they can be abducted or assaulted.”

In fact, the opposite was the case.  Offenders did not generally deceive victims about their age and interest in sexual relationships.

  • Only 5% of offenders lied about their age to pose as a minor.
  • 80% of offenders revealed their sexual desires to the minor.
  • In 89% of cases, victims willingly engaged in sexual activity with the offender; (5% of the cases involved violence or rape).

So, victims usually knew he was an older man w/sexual intentions before agreeing to face-to-face encounters with offenders.
Pretty disturbing that those children would agree to meet with older strangers and engage in such acts.

Not surprising that most of these children were at-risk youth who need help — love and understanding. When parents aren’t present or involved, some kids look elsewhere for acceptance.

So it seems like online safety is a complex issue that has a lot to do with offline, real world parenting.

And just as good parenting takes time, so too does law enforcement. The number one way that law enforcement catches child predators is through real-time communication with them, as millions of Americans have seen through the arrests on the “Dateline” “To Catch a Predator” series. Law enforcement needs additional resources for personnel and training to engage in these online activities, and may need additional forensic resources.

What can you do? Educate the good guys (our kids, parents and teachers) and Prevent the bad guys

  • Educate by teaching online safety in the schools
  • Educate by encouraging or even requiring social networking sites to make available educational materials on safety
  • Prevent by increasing penalties for sex offenders.
  • Prevent by enforcing online solicitation laws that criminalize meeting a minor offline that you met online for purposes of sex.

Let me conclude by saying that Internet safety is not a problem of one’s age per se. All the states that have considered age verification and parental consent, including Georgia (where I had the opportunity to appear at an educational hearing on the issue) have concluded that while age verification and parental consent may be visible, it is ineffective and unworkable for online safety.

Instead online safety is about knowing how to be safe, and being in a safe environment. Education and Prevention, not Age Verification.

Thank you very much.