Senate Moves to Protect Kids from Internet Porn

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Legislation now advancing in the Senate would require schools and libraries receiving federal subsidies to install anti-pornography filters on their computers.

The Senate passed two competing Republican proposals Tuesday, one more restrictive than the other.

"While schools and libraries across the country increasingly use the Internet as a learning tool, we need to ensure that pervasive obscene material is screened out and that our children are protected," said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who sponsored one amendment along with South Carolina Democrat Fritz Hollings.

"This legislation allows local communities to decide what technology they want to use and what to filter out so that our children's minds aren't polluted," said McCain.

The McCain-Hollings amendment, which passed 95-3, says schools and libraries receiving federal subsidies to hook up to the Internet would have to install technology to filter, block, or prevent general access to pornography on the Internet in cases where computers are used by minors. Moreover, the schools and libraries would have to certify to the Federal Communications Commission that they have done so.

However, critics of the McCain bill say it gives the FCC too much authority. They don't like the idea of the FCC being "the de factor national censor," to use the words of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

"This broad self-censoring imposed by the McCain amendment on schools and libraries will lead to a chilling of free speech to the detriment of our nation's children and library patrons," Leahy said.

Competing legislation sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) is less restrictive because it gives schools the option of either installing the blocking technology or developing an Internet use policy.

"The community, not the federal government, will determine what matter is inappropriate for minors and what is the most effective way to protect children," Santorum said. His amendment passed by a vote of 75-24.

But McCain and his supporters noted that some pornographic material may turn up in the course of a general Internet search, when seemingly harmless words such as "boy," "girl," or even "Barbie doll" are typed into search engines.

"When a school or library accepts federal dollars...they become a partner with the federal government in pursuing the compelling interest of protecting children," said McCain.

"The Supreme Court has made it clear that schools have the authority to remove inappropriate books from school libraries," McCain continued. "The Internet is simply another method for making information available in a school or library. It is no more than a technological extension of a book stack. As such, the same principles affirmed by the Court apply to restricting children's access to material, over the Internet, in a school."

McCain noted that parents are the first line of defense in protecting children, but he said parents need help.

Both amendments are attached to a Labor/Health and Human Services Appropriations bill, and it will be up to a conference committee to work out a compromise between the two measures.

See Related Stories:
Family Advocates Demand Internet Filtering in Public Libraries (16 March 2000)
Web Browsers Beware: Innocent Sounding Sites May Shock You (23 June 2000)