ICRA Responds to DOJ’s Child Porn Legislation

ICRA Responds to DOJ’s Child Porn Legislation
Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON – On the heels of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ speech before the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children outlining his plans to eradicate child pornography, the Internet Content Rating Association has weighed in and it isn’t pleased.

While applauding Gonzales for his efforts to solve the increasing problem of child sexual exploitation through his proposed Child Pornography and Obscenity Prevention Amendments of 2006, ICRA was critical of the part of the legislation that calls for a government-mandated labeling system for all adult websites.

ICRA, a nonprofit organization working to protect children from explicit adult material while preserving free speech on the Internet, also warned the Justice Department that if the proposed bill is passed, it will only cause U.S.-based webmasters to move offshore to avoid the “well intentioned, but fatally flawed law.”

The broad reach of Gonzales’ proposed initiative would require that all website operators include warning labels on their homepages and that all sexually explicit material is – at a very minimum – a click away. And while many website owners already do this, the labeling requirement would be enforced by the government and failure to comply could result in stiff penalties.

Instead, ICRA is proposing self-regulation as a way to prevent children from inadvertently becoming exposed to explicit sexual content. ICRA also claims that a nationally mandated system like the one proposed by Gonzales cannot guarantee international compliance.

"ICRA applauds the efforts of Attorney General Gonzalez to combat child pornography, which is abhorrent and utterly illegal,” Stephen Balkam, CEO of ICRA, said in a statement. “However, we vigorously oppose an added measure included in the draft bill that would require websites with sexually explicit material – material that is legal, but potentially harmful to minors – to use a government-mandated labeling system. ICRA strongly believes that self- regulation of legal Internet content leads to the best balance between the free flow of digital content and the protection of children from potentially harmful material.”

ICRA instead is proposing the use of its own self-labeling system that is applicable in any language. The system also calls on parents to use filtering software to allow or disallow access to websites based on the information declared in the label.

ICRA’s self-labeling system is supported by AOL, AT&T, British Telecom, CompTIA, Microsoft, RuleSpace, T-Online, and Verizon.

Gonzales’ draft bill also proposes that by law, Internet service providers would be required to report the presence of child pornography on their systems. If they fail to do so, they could be looking at fines of up to $300,000 per violation.

At press time, the Justice Department had not responded to ICRA.

“We look forward to sharing our ideas with the Justice Department and together, we can work to prevent and punish illegal child exploitation while allowing legal access to adult material and also protecting children from potentially harmful material," Balkam said.