Senate Proposes Prison for Those Failing to Label Adult Sites

Michael Hayes
WASHINGTON — Taking their cue from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, nine U.S. senators proposed a new law that would require adult website operators to post warning labels on each offending page.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who joined nine Republican colleagues to introduce the bill known as Stop Adults’ Facilitation of the Exploitation of Youth Act — or Internet Safety Act — cited concerns over online child predators as the impetus for taking action.

"The increase in Internet use has given sexual predators new ways to prey on children,” Kyl said. “This bill, among other things, is intended to shut down these opportunities and severely punish the degraded individuals who are involved in the sexual exploitation of our youth."

In addition to mandated labeling, the 24-page proposal would fine Internet service providers that fail to report sightings of child pornography on their networks — $150,000 for the first offense and $300,000 for each violation thereafter.

While ASACP Executive Director Joan Irvine agrees that combating child pornography online is a serious issue, she said that putting such a high penalty on ISPs misses the point.

“Most ISPs are already diligent about such reporting,” Irvine told XBIZ. “Ultimately the problem is not that child pornography goes unreported. In fact, ASACP’s online CP reporting hotline fields thousands of reports every month. Unfortunately, law enforcement has limited resources to pursue all these reports.”

According to a copy of the bill seen by reporters at CNET, commercial website operators who fail to place “clearly identifiable marks or notices” on either the sites code or pages to warn of adult material could face up to 15 years in prison.

The bill also would impose a 20-year sentence on individuals for using misleading domain names to direct children to harmful material on the Internet. Similar language would impose an equal penalty for those who embed words or images in the source code of sites with the intention of deceiving minors into viewing “harmful” content. Both are new crimes.

In April, Gonzales called for a mandatory rating system on the Internet to “prevent people from inadvertently stumbling across pornographic images on the Internet.”

Adult entertainment attorney Lawrence G. Walters told XBIZ that while the government’s efforts to crack down on child porn are noble, focusing its ire on legitimate adult businesses only conflates the issue.

“There’s a big disconnect between lawmakers and the adult industry that needs to be remedied,” Walters said. “It’s unfortunate that lawmakers aren’t aware of the industry’s efforts to self-regulate. This bill would only add to the confusing field of federal regulations for adult content online.”

While the Senate bill imposes stiff fines and prison time for those who run afoul of the proposed law, it does create one small exception for websites that display sexual depictions constituting a “small and insignificant part” of the total site.

Walters, who sees the exception differently, pointed out that it is “virtually impossible” to define adult content, making the task of determining which sites must comply equally impossible.

As for the bill’s proposed criminal penalties, Walters worried that such draconian sentences would bring the U.S. closer and closer George Orwell’s 1984.