Congress Moves to Force Social Networks to Block Access by Kids

Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick (R – Penn), decided to start his first term as a U.S. Representative with a bang this week by introducing the “Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006.” Would that be the “DOP Act?” The acronym I’m thinking of would need an “E,” and possibly a “Y” at the end to adequately describe this misguided attempt to protect kids from themselves by restricting their access to social networking sites.

The bill, H.R. 5319, would require those sites to make it difficult for children to access the site, and require schools and libraries to block access to any site described as a social network. It would also require the FTC to publish a list of offending sites that “have been shown to allow sexual predators easy access to personal information of, and contact with, children.”

A big problem with the plan is the broad language the bill uses to describe its target, including any site that “allows users to create Web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users; and offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, e-mail, or instant messenger.”

“Sites like Myspace and Facebook have opened the door to a new online community of social networks between friends, students and colleagues,” Fitzpatrick said on his Web site. “However, this new technology has become a feeding ground for child predators that use these sites as just another way to do our children harm.”

The bill would also require the FTC to create a Web site that would serve as a resource for parents and teachers to learn about the potential dangers of internet child predators, and ways they can use the information children provide on social networking sites in nefarious ways. Since the FTC has an existing page that includes social networking in its tips for parents when discussing Internet use with their kids, there’s no need to pass a law to make that happen.

Should kids be educated about not putting too much personal information in a public profile? Yes, of course. Should there be a law passing that responsibility on to schools, libraries, and the site owners instead of parents? No way.

The bill is currently being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Let’s hope someone there is willing to oppose this grandstanding and realize that legislating technology to prevent its misuse is never a good idea.

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