cr> CONGRESS: Online Parental Control Act of 1996


Craig A. Johnson

Date:          Thu, 14 Mar 1996 11:47:33 -0800
To:            •••@••.•••
From:          •••@••.••• (--Todd Lappin-->)
Subject:       CONGRESS: Online Parental Control Act of 1996

Today in the House of Representatives, legislation was introduced to
encourage parental empowerment on the Internet and eliminate the vague
and overbroad "indecency" standard that became law under the
Communications Decency Act.

The new legislation, called the "Online Parental Control Act of 1996,"
was introduced by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), whose district includes much
of California's Silicon Valley.  Representatives Pelosi (D-CA),
Dellums (D-CA), Farr (D-CA), Gejdenson (D-CT), and Woolsey (D-CA) are
co-sponsors of the bill.

(The full text of Rep. Eschoo's press release on the new legislation
follows below.)

The Online Parental Control Act of 1996 seeks to replace the
"indecency" standard (which is mainly used to regulate speech in
BROADCAST media) with the more narrowly-drawn "harmful to minors"
standard which has already been upheld as constitutional in 48 states.

My understanding is that "harmful to minors" is a PRINT-based
standard, but I'll research this and send out a more detailed
evaluation as soon as possible. In the meantime, I can say this:
"harmful to minors" is viewed as a middle-of-the-road standard, and as
such, it remains *highly* controversial. There are many who would
argue that *any* attempt to restrict access to content other than
obscenity (which does not enjoy First Amendment protection) is

Stay tuned.

All of this, by the way, comes on the heels of a bill (S 1567) Patrick
Leahy introduced in the United States Senate last month in an effort
to repeal the Communications Decency Act altogether.

Spread the word!

--Todd Lappin-->
Section Editor
WIRED Magazine


Lewis Roth
CONTACT: (202) 225-8104
March 14, 1996

Eshoo Introduces Online Parental Control Act
Legislation Strengthens Parental Control Of Online Materials,
Eliminates "Indecency" Standard

Washington, D.C.--Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) today introduced the Online
Parental Control Act of 1996 (OPCA) to strengthen the control parents
have over their children's access to online materials, eliminate the
"indecency" standard from the Communications Act of 1934, and provide
additional defenses against liability for publishing online materials.
Representatives Pelosi (D-CA), Dellums (D-CA), Farr (D-CA), Gejdenson
(D-CT), and Woolsey (D-CA) are original cosponsors of OPCA.

When the Telecommunications Reform Bill was signed into law earlier
this year, it made sweeping changes to America's telecommunications
policy.  Among those changes was the establishment of a ban on using
telecommunications devices to provide "indecent" materials to minors,
as well as defenses against being held liable for a violation of that
ban.  For example, people could avoid liability by using software that
blocks the access of minors to such materials or restricts access
through the use of credit card numbers or adult access codes.  Some
U.S. Representatives, including Rep. Eshoo, opposed the "indecency"
standard because the range of material it would ban was so broad that
it violates the right to freedom of speech.

The "indecency" standard is currently being challenged in court by a
large coalition of free speech advocacy groups and high technology

"The Online Parental Control Act will encourage an open dialogue in
Congress about the best way to both give parents control over what
their children see online and protect the First Amendment rights of
Internet users," said Rep. Eshoo.  "My proposal builds on last year's
efforts to reach a compromise on this issue by offering more
incentives for the online community to provide families with better
parental control technologies.

"I'm supportive of efforts to address this issue in the courts, but I
believe Congress also needs to offer a legislative solution.  Given
the political realities of the current Congress, I think OPCA offers
the most realistic way to settle this dispute in a timely and
effective manner."

The Online Parental Control Act of 1996:

        Replaces the "indecency" standard with a "harmful to minors"
        Establishes a definition for "harmful to minors;"
        Maintains the Communications Act of 1934's legal defenses
against liability for people who choose to give parents technology
that: 1) blocks or restricts access to online materials deemed obscene
or harmful to minors, and 2) restricts access to such materials
through adult access codes or credit card numbers;
        Adds two new defenses: 1) the use of labeling or segregating
systems to restrict access to online materials, such as systems
developed using the standards designed by the Platform for Internet
Content Selection project (PICS), and 2) the use of other systems that
serve the same function of the other defenses if they are as
reasonable, effective, and appropriate as blocking, adult access code,
and labeling technologies; and
        Protects providers or users of interactive computer services,
information content providers, and access software providers from
civil or criminal liability under state law for making available to
minors materials that are indecent or harmful to minors if they take
actions to qualify for the defenses mentioned above.

"I'd rather have Mom and Dad monitoring their children's online
viewing habits than the government," concluded Rep. Eshoo. 
"Technology offers the best opportunity for parents to manage what
their kids have access to, and the Online Parental Control Act
encourages those technologies to be developed more fully."

The "indecency" standard is a vague term that has been subject to
legal challenge by a wide range of free speech advocates and high
technology companies.  The broad nature of the "indecency" standard
means that it could lead to a prohibition on material such as classic
art like Michelangelo's David, classic literature like "Catcher In The
Rye," and frank discussions about birth control, sexuality, or disease
transmission. "Harmful to minors," on the other hand, already works
successfully in 48 states, more directly addresses speech that
actually harms children, and passes constitutional muster.

PICS is a cross-industry working group assembled under the auspices of
MIT's World Wide Web Consortium to develop an easy-to-use content
labeling and selection platform that empowers people worldwide to
selectively control online content they receive through personal
computers.  The Recreational Software Advisory Council recently
announced that it will soon implement a detailed voluntary ratings
system, using PICS standards, that will let computer users filter out
varying degrees of sex, violence, nudity, and foul language. 
Companies and groups supporting PICS include Apple, America Online,
AT&T, the Center for Democracy and Technology, CompuServe, IBM, France
Telecom, Prodigy, Providence Systems/Parental Guidance, Surf Watch
Software, and Time Warner Pathfinder.

For more information about the Online Parental Control Act of 1996,
please contact Lewis Roth at (202) 225-8104 or look on the Internet at


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