Citing the recent death of a Connecticut child who apparently fell victim to a man she met online, the House voted overwhelmingly to establish a new domain for kid-friendly Web sites and to expand wiretap authority to target Internet predators.
The domain measure, approved on a 406-2 vote, would have the federal government oversee a ".kids.us" domain on the Internet that would have only material appropriate for children under 13. Web site operators' participation would be voluntary. Parents could set computer software to limit a child's access to only addresses ending in .kids.us.
Lawmakers cited the death of Christina Long, a sixth-grader from Danbury, Conn., in urging passage of both bills. Police say she was strangled and her body dumped in a ravine by a 25-year-old man she met in an Internet chat room.
"Sometimes I think the World Wide Web should be renamed the World's Wicked Web," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
Supporters of the domain bill, sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., say it should reduce the chance of accidental exposure to pornography and to other Web sites considered harmful to children, and it would not provide any access to interactive features, such as chat rooms.
Groups opposing the domain, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have called the legislation a backdoor attempt at censorship.
Shimkus said parents need to be aware of what Web sites their children are surfing.
"I have repeatedly said that libraries have children's book sections, why can't the Internet have the same type of section devoted to children's interests?" he said.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate, according to a spokesman.
The wiretap measure, approved 396-11, would allow investigators to seek wiretaps for suspected sexual predators to help block physical meetings between molesters and children they meet via the computer.
"The threat to our children is real," its chief sponsor, Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., said.
Wiretaps could be authorized for people suspected of engaging in child pornography, of trying to get children to perform sexual acts for money or of traveling to or bringing children for sexual activity.
Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., argued against expanding wiretap authority, voicing concerns that even current limited use by law enforcement typically results in overhearing innocent conversations.
"It ought to be necessary," he said of wiretapping authority. "It's not enough for it to be helpful for law enforcement."
Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., a former prosecutor, countered that safeguards against potential abuse would be in place because a court would determine whether any wiretap should proceed.
A similar wiretapping bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate.
The bill numbers are H.R. 1877 and H.R. 3833.
On the Net:
American Civil Liberties Union: http://aclu.org
Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press
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