WASHINGTON – A Senate committee asked seven federal and private professionals what can be done now to protect America's youth from viewing obscene Internet material.
“The problem is we are not saying anything as a society. We are staying silent,” said James B Weaver III,communication and psychology professor at Virginia Tech University.
Weaver testified Thursday about the latest methods of child Internet protection before the Senate Committee on Commerce,Science and Transportation.
James H. Burrus Jr.,FBI deputy assistant director of the Criminal Investigative Division; Laura Parsky,deputy assistant attorney general; Tim Lordan,executive director for Internet Education Foundation; Tatiana S. Platt,chief trust officer and senior vice president for America Online,Inc; Paul Cambria,general counsel for Adult Freedom Foundation; and Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln,D-Ark.,also testified.
The committee will hold a series of meetings through March about topics from decency to wireless issues that will lead to legislation on mass media and decency. The committee discussed indecent television programming earlier in the day.
Courts have ruled that some previous attempts at limiting Internet content violated the First Amendment.
Burrus said the FBI has formed an adult obscenity squad,giving agents legal and Internet training to better conduct investigations.
This squad teams with the Department of Justice's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force to determine if certain Web content fit the definition of obscenity,Burrus said.
Since 2001,the bureau opened 79 Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material cases. Of those,52 have been opened since 2004.
“The exact volume of pornographic material available through the Internet is difficult to determine,” he said.
Committee Chairman Ted Stevens,R-Alaska,asked Burrus if the bureau needs more tools to do its job,and Burrus said the bureau is able to work within President Bush's budget.
Lincoln,the mother of 9-year-old twin boys,said it can be difficult for parents to know about Internet predators and to educate their children,but it's their responsibility.
“Parents are the first line of defense,” she said.
She said parents also need government agencies and technological devices to help protect their children while they are online.
Platt said AOL informs its customers as soon as they create an account that there are dangers to look out for and provides safety tips.
James Martinez,a spokesman for the National PTA,said he has not seen many parents struggle with educating their children about the Internet. Martinez,who did not attend the hearing,said the non-profit organization offers resources such as magazines and brochures highlighting online safety.
“When it comes to Internet safety,it comes down to parent involvement,” he said.
Sen. Conrad Burns,R-Mont.,said the Internet serves as a “big town” and provides many avenues for children to roam. He agreed parents need to educate their children and recognize the dangers.
“There are places to go,and there are places not to go,” Burns said. “It's not only the legislation. It's public awareness.”
Bob Corn-Revere,a lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine here who specializes in First Amendment Law,said in an interview that trying to restrict access for everyone is not the solution. He said two-thirds of American households do not include children under 18,something most people do not know.
He said the U.S. Constitution should be the plan for deciding what may be viewed in the home.
“The presumption is that all people get to decide rather than have the government decide for us,” Corn-Revere said.