Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Child Online Protection Act - First Amendment concerns?

In 1998, Congress passed the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), but courts have blocked its implementation due to First Amendment concerns. In its appeal, the DOJ wants to prove how easy it is to inadvertently stumble upon porn. In order to conduct a controlled experiment—to be performed by a UC Berkeley professor of statistics—the DOJ wants to use a large sample of actual search terms from the different search engines. It would then use those terms to do its own searches, employing the different kinds of filters each search engine offers, in an attempt to quantify how often "material that is harmful to minors" might appear. Google contends that since it is not a party to the case, the government has no right to demand its proprietary information to perform its test. "We intend to resist their motion vigorously," said Google attorney Nicole Wong.

DOJ spokesperson Charles Miller says that the government is requesting only the actual search terms, and not anything that would link the queries to those who made them. (The DOJ is also demanding a list of a million Web sites that Google indexes to determine the degree to which objectionable sites are searched.) Originally, the government asked for a treasure trove of all searches made in June and July 2005; the request has been scaled back to one week's worth of search queries.

One oddity about the DOJ's strategy is that the experiment could conceivably sink its own case. If the built-in filters that each search engine provides are effective in blocking porn sites, the government will have wound up proving what the opposition has said all along—you don't need to suppress speech to protect minors on the Net. "We think that our filtering technology does a good job protecting minors from inadvertently seeing adult content," says Ramez Naam, group program manager of MSN Search.

Stephen Rene
Non-Profit: www.ParentsWhoCare.us
Bio: http://ebusinesspros.expage.com
Blog: http://FathersWhoCare.blogspot.com
Bus: www.eBusinessProfessionals.us

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