Congress Presses for More Parental Controls

Published December 1, 2008

Congress has passed legislation intended to press the federal government to provide parents with more control over the content their children receive through computers and other electronic devices.

President George W. Bush (R) is expected to sign the legislation if Congress sends it to the White House.

The Child Safe Viewing Act requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue a notice of inquiry to examine what advanced content-blocking technologies are available for various communication devices and platforms. It also calls for FCC to consider how to develop and deploy such technologies without affecting content providers’ pricing or packaging.

Tech Experts Split

Free-market technology experts are split over the proposal. Steve Titch, a telecom analyst with the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, dismissed the bill as the kind of “feel-good legislation” lawmakers tend to back during election time. But Daniel Ballon, a policy fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, said there is nothing wrong with legislation merely mandating FCC issue a report about content-blocking.

There is concern, however, that FCC could go farther or legislators could use the report to dictate filtering rules to content providers. Such legislation also brings up many issues regarding the definition of indecent and objectionable material.

“The most effective filtering is done at the home by the parents,” Titch said. “Given the amount of content that is out there, there is something to offend everyone. It’s a waste of time and government resources to try to determine what is indecent or objectionable. The most effective way to block ‘objectionable’ content is for the parent to proactively take responsibility.”

Parental Responsibility

Titch recommends the agency include in its report a discussion of the huge selection of content-filtering tools, many available at no cost, that enable parents to block content or to allow access only to permitted sites.

“Legislation is no more needed to protect children from the Internet than it is to protect them from cable [television],” Titch said. “There are different standards in different households. The only way to do it is for parents to take the matter into their own hands.”

Library Autonomy

While parents have no control over what is readily available in libraries, Titch argues librarians, not FCC, should dictate what content the computers can access.

“They are trained professionals,” Titch said. “They decide which books are shelved. They are trained [to determine what content is appropriate.] It’s better to have them do this than to have the mayor or someone else in government decide. Librarians don’t cater to just one part of the electorate.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.