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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An Opinion about Internet Safety from Capitol Hill

My family and I just got back from a very educational and tiring vacation to our nation's capitol.  Though I try to abstain from politics and would never use this blog as a forum of support for any political figure or candidate, I do have to acknowledge the courtesy and hospitality extended by our Congressman's (John Boehner) office during our visit.  We wrote Mr. Boehner's office before the trip and arranged a tour of the Capitol Building (very cool) and though we didn't get a chance to meet Mr. Boehner (he had just left for the holiday weekend), we did get to spend some time talking to members of his staff.

As a history fanatic, I had a million questions for the aide that conducted our tour.  When we got back to Boehner's office, we spent some time talking to other members of his staff.  We were fortunate enough to spend a few minutes talking to one of his senior staff members (who I will not name out of political courtesy) and I told him about my efforts around keeping kids safe online and asked him this question: "what do you think the federal government's position should be in promoting or enforcing internet safety for children?"  I thought you would all be interested in the answer.  And though I will not claim this to be a word-for-word quote/response, I will say that it is very close to the answer I received:

The topic you are asking about has definitely come up many times.  It is a politically ambiguous and somewhat dangerous topic as any effort to enforce regulation along such lines could very easily stray into infringement of First Amendment rights.  As much as most public servants in government find pornography and other content that might be harmful to children objectionable, the right to produce and display it is guaranteed by the same Constitution that guarantees our right to object to it.  I believe, and Mr. Boehner might agree, that the role of the federal government is to promote a safe environment for children online by facilitating safety and education through grants and well-conceived programs that encourage and enable content and sites that operate in the best interest of children.  The content available online, just like printed content, is not within the power of the government, nor should it be, to regulate or censor. It is and should be the responsibility of the parent, school, or any adult who allows children to connect to the Internet to monitor and control the information that their children are allowed to access. 

From a legislative standpoint, the government should be willing to create laws that protect children once the reach and impact of objectionable content goes beyond the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Luring children to objectionable sites, pushing offensive content out to minors, the use of communication media for illegal activities, and certainly the use of the internet by sexual and other predators is the province of the government and along those lines, every member of Congress agrees that efforts should be made to dissuade offenders and create harsh consequences for those that use social and public media to violate the rights of others.

As much as I think this answer is politically safe, I agree with it. I'd love to know what you all think.

1 comment:

  1. To be honest, it's not the government's job to protect children from growing up. It is their job to say kids shouldn't work in mines and mills; it's their job to say kids are entitled to an education; it's their job to police streets and minimize the chances of said children being harmed, as a citizen, in society (muggings, drugs, etc.)... it is NOT their job to protect kids on the internet. That is a parent's job.

    Until parents stop passing the buck and do their job (watching over their children), Internet safety will remain an elusive concept. If parents REALLY want to keep their kids safe online, they need to know what they are doing on the computer, and what is happening in their online lives. Blocks and filters are easy to get around, and talking alone will get you nowhere… (if you think your kids are going to tell you, honestly, everything they are doing online – you are only kidding yourself). Education is a great thing, and very necessary, but how can you consider yourself educated if you don’t know the simplest information – like what your kids are really doing on the Internet to begin with.

    But there is a solution. If you have monitoring software, like our PC Pandora (, you will know everything they do on the internet AND be able to talk to them about it. If you aren’t monitoring and don’t know what they are really doing, how can you be sure they are safe? It’s not an issue of privacy (I have no idea where and when kids were granted endless privacy because they exist – in my day privacy was earned through trust and an established good behavior record), nor is it an issue of trust – it’s called being a 21st century parent. If you don’t know what your kids are doing online, you aren’t doing your job as a parent. If you aren’t monitoring what your kids do online and watch them, the wrong person will…