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CDT Analyzes Data Retention, Other Proposals For Protecting Kids Online

The Center for Democracy and Technology recommends education and filtering tools to prevent what it calls an unfair burden of liability on content and communications providers.

One in five children is sexually solicited online, according to a study that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales cited during a speech at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children last year. Few would dispute the severity of the problem, but a free speech and privacy group is scrutinizing several plans to combat it.

Congress has introduced a slew of bills to deal with the problem. Some legislation would hold technology and communications companies responsible for predatory activities that take place through their services. Others would increase funding for safety initiatives focusing on empowering parents and educating children.

The Center for Democracy and Technology has analyzed several of the proposals to protect children on the Internet and concluded that most would be ineffective and violate the U.S. Constitution. The privately-funded policy group says it supports protection of children online, but the best way to do it is through education and filtering tools -- not through blacklisting, data retention, or mandatory labeling.

"Direct attempts to regulate content on the Internet, in contrast, are seldom effective, in part because of the fact that more than half of the sexual content that Congress seeks to regulate is overseas, outside the reach of a U.S. criminal law or regulation," the CDT wrote in a policy analysis published last week.

The CDT praised a plan that U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) introduced. Bean's bill, H.R. 1008, has 48 co-sponsors. It would create an Internet safety office to coordinate safety initiatives and provide funding to schools, libraries, and other groups. The CDT also supports portions of other bills that increase funding for prosecuting child pornography in America, while encouraging foreign governments to fight sexual exploitation of children.

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