Anti-Porn Bill Targets Internet 'File Sharing'

July 7, 2008 - 8:21 PM

(CNSNews.com) - In an effort to curb the distribution of pornography to young people, lawmakers have introduced a bill in Congress that would require Internet file-swapping services to get parental consent before allowing children to use their software.

"The Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Pornography Act" is intended to prevent children from downloading pornographic material that is widely available through file-sharing services, said Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Chris John (D-La.).

"It's alarming today how easy it is for our children to inadvertently access pornography over the Internet and become victims of sexual predators, so we introduced the legislation to basically provide for notice of disclosure and consent of parents to try to protect them," Pitts said.

Peer-to-peer, or P2P, file-sharing programs represent a popular new trend among young people. P2P networks such as Kazaa, Morpheus and Grokster have attained notoriety for allowing the widespread swapping of copyrighted music. These networks can also be used to trade other kinds of digital files, including images and videos.

However, the software makes teens vulnerable to a new tactic of the pornography industry.

Pitts drafted the bill after reading a General Accounting Office (GAO) report that showed the high availability of pornography on file-sharing networks.

Children using P2P networks can easily be exposed to pornography inadvertently and filters available to parents to protect their children have severe limitations, the March 2003 GAO report stated.

The GAO used 12 keywords associated with porn to search Kazaa and found 76 percent of the returned files and file names were pornographic, with 42 percent representing child pornography.

When the term "porn" was entered, it yielded 25,000 files with pornographic titles, proving the accessibility of porn via P2P. When GAO investigators entered such youth-oriented search terms as "Britney," "Olsen Twins," and "Pokemon," more than 40 percent of the returns yielded child pornography and another 30 percent returned adult pornography.

The new bill would require distributors of P2P software to provide prominent notice that pornographic material can be accessed by downloading their software.

Distributors also would be required to obtain verifiable parental consent for anyone under age 18 seeking to download P2P software.

Most important, it tasks the Federal Trade Commission and the Commerce Department with developing "do-not-install beacons" that parents could use to block the downloading of the software.

"It's about parents having the tools necessary to protect their children from pornography," Pitts said.

Problems with technology?

But some technology experts said they doubted the Federal Trade Commission would be able to develop the kind of technology the act calls for.

Fred von Lohmann, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, said the "do-not-install beacon" would not be effective in today's Internet, which he said was built on so-called P2P architecture.

"I don't think anybody has built such a thing and frankly I don't think such a thing is possible, or at least not likely to be effective in this kind of world," von Lohmann said.

"This is an example of another piece of legislation introduced by someone who fundamentally doesn't understand how the Internet works and doesn't understand how computer technology functions," von Lohmann said.

Moreover, children who get on the Internet can access porn through many other means, including email and chat rooms, he said.

"I admit that it's a problem, but I think the only plausible solution here is for parents to supervise their children on the Internet if they are worried about these things. No federal regulator is going to be a substitute for parental supervision," von Lohmann said.

The bill's sponsors acknowledge the creation of the technology will not be easy. For this reason they give the FTC 18 months to develop the "beacons."

"There have been some attempts to create this type of thing in the past, but the technology has not been fully developed, so that's why we give them a buffer," said Derek Karchner, a spokesman for Pitts.

Pitts and John currently are currently looking for co-sponsors for the legislation in preparation for a committee hearing in the fall. Pitts said it might be difficult to get the bill passed this year, "but we want to educate the public and the members and build a coalition now to try to move the legislation."

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