Unenforceable “Child Internet Safety” bill proposed – likely to go nowhere

(via BoingBoing)

Here’s what happens when people who don’t understand the Internet write laws pertaining to the Internet.

Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Max Baucus, (D-MT) have proposed a bill that would require all commercial websites with material “harmful to minors” (in other words, sexually explicit content) to move to a .xxx domain within 6 months of this bill becoming law — or face civil penalties. Under the terms of the proposed law, the US Commerce Department secretary would be required to develop a domain name for adult sites (presumably .xxx) with ICANN.

For starters, the bill is very vague on what would fall under the “harmful to minors” category. The site from which I pulled this story, BoingBoing, gets censored by some Internet filtering software. Would the fact that BoingBoing has a link to Suicide Girls (a guaranteed not-safe-for-work site) cause BoingBoing to get moved to this adult sites domain? Who decides what is “harmful to minors” anyway?  BoingBoing is damn useful to me as a techie news site (among the other things posted there).  But sometimes, things intended for adults get posted there, as well.  So that means the site should be moved to a domain that I would almost assuredly be unavailable to me any place that has filtering?  Great.
And if that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, then consider how many sites on the Internet are not in the US. This law would have no impact on those sites at all. How would whatever agency has to enforce this piece of garbage make http://www.ILikeSmallFurryRodents.com/ move to this new domain, when ILSFR.com is based in Lithuania?

Going beyond those problems, what about the whole idea of free speech in the US, anyway?  This bill isn’t targetting just things like kiddie-porn.  This bill would even hit legal stuff, that currently is protected as free speech.  You may not like it, but that doesn’t make it illegal.

As suggested by others who have read about this bill, why not make a domain that is specifically built for hosting child-friendly sites?  Even make an agency which is responsible for reviewing sites before granting approval.  Then, instead of forcing so many sites to move because someone, somewhere might feel something posted on those sites could potentially be harmful to minors, just give the option to kid-friendly sites to move to this new domain.  When parents want to let their kids on to the Internet, give them a specialized browser that can only access the kid-friendly domain.

Blocking adult content by segregating it to a specific domain is a certain setup for failure.  Every time someone posts a new site, they can put whatever they want.  To keep this bad law functioning, every day new sites would have to be monitored and squirreled off to the adults only domain.  And it still wouldn’t touch sites hosted outside the US.  By giving an option to host kid-friendly content on a different domain, it makes verifying appropriateness easier and makes building the whole kid-friendly ‘net better.  But law-makers don’t seem capable of much logical thought, so something smart like this is unlikely to happen.