Congress Close to Blocking Internet Porn in Public Schools, Libraries

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Congress is on the verge of putting up a barrier in public schools and libraries to prevent children from seeing Internet obscenity and child pornography.

The Children's Internet Protection Act, previously passed by both the Senate and House in different versions, would require libraries that accept federal funding to install blocking or filtering software on computers accessible to children.

The bill was recently attached to the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill, which Congress must vote on before adjourning for the year.

Supporters of the Internet protection bill say it will help prevent children from gaining easy access to obscene or child pornographic materials at public schools and libraries.

"Congress has a duty to make sure that federal aid to public schools and libraries isn't the means by which kids are exposed to hard-core and child pornography -- and passing the Children's Internet Protection Act is a sure-fire way for Congress to safeguard our kids," said Jan LaRue, senior director of Legal Studies at the Family Research Council.

Differences in the Senate and House-passed bill have been resolved by a conference committee, though further changes could still be made in negotiations over the Labor, HHS bill.

Mark Kitchens, assistant press secretary for the White House, said President Clinton opposes the Internet Protection Act sponsored by, among others, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain.

Clinton, according to Kitchens, is hoping for "less burdensome, less restrictive language that would require that schools and libraries develop their own 'acceptable use' plans at the local level and certify their implementation."

"That's where we differ from the McCain [plan]," said Kitchens, who added that the president prefers a bill sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

The White House has filters in use for its own employees, which David Crane, an aide to McCain, said resulted from White House employees downloading large pornographic files.

Kitchens denied that the filters were installed for that reason. "Any large corporation...who is concerned with inappropriate content obviously is going to have filtering mechanisms," he said.

"We're not saying Internet filtering is a bad thing," said Kitchens. "The President strongly encourages it," Kitchens said. "The issue is local control."

It remains unclear when the Labor, HHS bill will come up for a floor vote. With less than three weeks remaining before the November election, most members are eager to finish business in Washington and return home to campaign for re-election.

Other critics of the McCain bill voice a variety of objections, charging that it will encroach on constitutionally protected speech, that the filtering software won't work well, and that the bill goes too far in relieving parents and minors of responsibility.

"We are working to defeat [the bill]," said Mark Johnson of the American Civil Liberties Union. Johnson said the ACLU will consider filing a lawsuit if the McCain version is passed into law.

"[The McCain bill] has been expanded far beyond the original [plan]," said Johnson. Now, the bill links filters to more than one source of federal funding, he said.

Like President Clinton, the ACLU favors the Santorum bill, which Johnson described as "much more reasonable."

"It allows libraries to have an 'acceptable use' policy that says this is what we consider acceptable use for the Internet," explained Johnson. "If you violate that, then you may lose your internet privileges," he continued.

"The Catholic Conference has used that successfully in some of their schools, because kids need to learn consequences, whereas blocking doesn't really teach anything. It just tries to keep it out of their sphere of knowledge," Johnson said.

Crane responded that the ACLU is using the McCain plan as a fundraising tool. "ACLU is a big business," he said, "this is a big fundraiser for them."