Commentary

Block 'Cyberporn' at Libraries

I have been a supporter of the Children's Internet Protection Act since the early days of its development more than three years ago. It is absolutely appropriate and right for Congress to require schools and libraries using federal funds to implement protective software that protects children from exposure to pornography.

I believe that children should be able to use the Internet without the risk of being exposed to pornography or sexual predators. A child should be able to type an innocent word - toys, for example - into a search engine without being deceptively routed to a porn site displaying free images. Stealth sites such as whitehouse.com and childrensbiblestories.com should not exist.

I believe that a student should be able to search the Internet for information on wolves for a school report without being exposed to a picture of a woman having sex with a wolf. Library patrons should not be exposed to other patrons viewing and masturbating to online pornography in taxpayer-funded libraries. Parents should be able to trust their children's schools and public libraries to do their part in protecting children online.

I believe that once children have been exposed to Internet pornography, those images can never be erased from their minds. I believe that all children deserve a protected space of innocence.

In an ideal cyberworld, child pornography and obscenity - graphic sex acts, bestiality, and excretory porn - would not exist. Material that is softer-core yet still harmful to minors should be segregated via brown cyberwrappers from the eyes of children and accessible only by consenting adults.

I believe that in an ideal world, we would not need protective technologies to prevent kids from being exposed to illegal content and activity online. But what I believe should be is not the reality of the Internet we know today. Instead, any child with a computer, a modem and unrestricted Internet access is in tremendous danger of being exposed to pornography and sexual predators. With unrestricted access, it is not a matter of if they will be exposed - it is a matter of when.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's survey last year showed that one in four children accidentally accessed pornography, and one in five children received a sexual solicitation in the past year. In addition to online pornography prosecutions, the only current defense to shield children from such dangers is the implementation of safety rules in tandem with software tools. One without the other is insufficient. Filtering technology is a tool of prevention - a necessary line of defense in the current Internet environment. Are protective technologies such as filtering and monitoring perfect? No. Is current filtering technology highly effective? Yes.

At the Child Online Protection Commission hearings last summer, we heard testimony from teachers and librarians as to the effectiveness of filters in both the school and library environments. In fact, the commission unanimously found that filtering technology was "highly effective" in shielding children from material harmful to minors.

As anticipated, the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the Children's Internet Protection Act. The ACLU claims that filtering products aren't good enough. But the reality is that the ACLU does not accept the basic objective of filtering - namely, to keep children and pornography apart.

By its own stated policy - ACLU Policy 4 - the ACLU opposes on First Amendment grounds (1) "Laws which punish the distribution or exposure of such material to minors" i.e., obscenity, pornography or indecency and (2) "laws that restrict the production and distribution of any printed and visual materials even when some of the producers of those materials are punishable under criminal law," i.e, child pornography. The ACLU does not accept any form of filtering because it believes it's unconstitutional to prevent the distribution of pornography to anyone, including children. Let's face it - these are not mainstream views. It grieves me that children continue to have their innocence sacrificed on the altar of the ACLU's version of the First Amendment, as we duke these issues out in the courts. What's become of our country when we have to defend Congress' compelling interest to protect children? We should not have to defend Congress' attempt to prevent our nation's schools' and libraries' Internet access from being federally funded porn outlets.

The ACLU vs. Ashcroft? No, let's just call it what it is: The ACLU vs. the innocence of America's children.