Last Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would make it a federal felony for Webmasters to use innocent words like “Barbie” or “Furby” but actually feature sexual content on their sites.
Anyone who includes misleading “words” or “images” intended to confuse a minor into viewing a possibly harmful Web site could be imprisoned for up to 20 years and fined, the bill says.
Because the U.S. Senate already approved the measure in a voice vote last week, it now goes to President Bush for his signature. Bush, who previously endorsed the bill, has scheduled a signing ceremony for Thursday afternoon on the White House grounds.
“America’s children will be better protected from every parent’s worst nightmare–sexual predators–thanks to passage” of the legislation, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a statement on Tuesday.
In principle, it’s a good idea. However, see below for the glitch:
If the bill becomes law, it’s not clear which Webmasters would become federal felons. Sites like Kontraband.com, which show Barbie and Ken dolls having simulated sex, could be in trouble, depending on how prosecutors and juries interpret the language. (Kontraband offers video clips and photographs, some of which are racy.)
Kontraband.com representative Dylan Close said in an e-mail message to CNET News.com that he was familiar with the congressional legislation and that the site already rates the pages using a system borrowed from the British Board of Film Classification. For instance, a page showing topless images was marked as not safe for work. Close also said that the site’s Barbie and Ken clip was intended for adults and older teenagers, not children.
Also, what if you are a porn star and your name is Ken or Barbie? Shouldn’t you be entitled to use your name? Don’t free speech concerns override parents who fail to supervise their children’s activities – online or otherwise?
In addition, the Child Protection and Safety Act, or Walsh Act (named for Adam Walsh, who was abducted and murdered in 1981 at 6 years old), would:
• Punish the intentional Internet sale or distribution of “date rape drugs” by making the act a new federal crime with up to 20 years in prison. The list of offending drugs would include gamma hydroxybutyric acid (sometimes called liquid ecstasy), ketamine, and flunitrazepam (better-known under the trade name Rohypnol).
• Force sex offenders to provide a DNA sample, a requirement that many states already have adopted.
• Create a national sex offender registry to be run by the FBI, with “relevant information” on each person. It’s supposed to permit geographical lookups based on ZIP code.
• Fund a series of pilot programs, lasting up to three years, to tag sex offenders with tracking devices that would let them be monitored in real time. The devices would include a GPS downlink (to provide exact coordinates), a cellular uplink (to transmit the coordinates to police), and two-way voice communications.
This will be a tough battle and, undoubtedly, the constitutionality of the legislation will be challenged in court.