CNET is reporting on the passage in the House of DOPA, the Deleting Online Predators Act, which aims to impose a federal mandate for libraries and schools to restrict access to MySpace and other sites that offer chat room or social functionality — in other words, most of the Internet — to minors. The legislation appears to be very broad, as it targets any site that permits the creation of a “public profile.” So, in other words, this includes most blogs (including this very site), message boards, chat rooms, Facebook, MySpace…you name it.
Here’s my take: It’s poor legislation that I think attacks the wrong problem the wrong way. There are perfectly legitimate academic uses for some discussion sites and blogs, I think. Yes, Internet predators are a real problem, and we have to deal with them, but let’s not ignore the possibility of predators at playgrounds and other public places. They’re still out there as well. What do we do? Ban the usage of playgrounds by minors? Restrict minors to a federally-mandated curfew? What kind of parent lets their kid onto the Internet without supervision anyway? I don’t know too many parents who let their young children out on a playground, or any public place, without some kind of supervision. The playground isn’t responsible for watching the children, the parents are. Why does the Internet have to be any different? Our government clearly knows next to nothing about how the Internet works (see Ted Stevens’ rant about “internet tubes” for a prime example) but wants to legislate the living hell out of it because it’s still relatively new and must be a breeding ground for lawlessness and anarchy. That, and it represents the circumvention of traditional media controls for the free exchange of ideas, and that seems to threaten a lot of people.