Bill Aims to Keep Children Away from Porn Web Sites

Article excerpt

"Teaser" pages on the Internet that lure unsuspecting computer users into viewing hard-core pornography will be the focus of one of three technology bills in Congress soon.

One proposal by Sen. Daniel R. Coats, Indiana Republican, would impose criminal penalties for explicit images on the free pages advertising pornographic World Wide Web sites. Pornographers often give sites harmless-sounding names to entice people to visit them by mistake.

This bill, the Children's Online Protection Act, would ensure that a child typing the wrong Web address won't be confronted with hard-core porn.

"Moderate and conservative Republicans can form a culturally conservative consensus on this," said Rep. James C. Greenwood, Pennsylvania Republican and co-sponsor of the the House version of the bill. "It's the teaser pages that are very explicit. I think the votes will be there for this."

The bill does make an exception for porn sites that attempt to screen out young people by requiring credit cards, adult access codes or some other personal verification.

Violators could face as much as six months in jail and a maximum fine of $50,000. However, many hard-core sites have dispensed with any warning whatsoever, which could be why Mr. Coats' bill sailed through the Senate Commerce Committee.

Teaser images have porn opponents, such as Donna Rice Hughes of Enough is Enough, seeing red.

"Why should the pornographers be allowed to do in cyberspace what they can't do in print and broadcast?" she asked. "You can't run the Playboy Channel on prime-time TV or sell an adult magazine to a minor but there's no federal statute [against obscene images] in cyberspace."

"All we're asking is for a brown cyberwrapper," she says, so that at least the lead page on the Web site is rated something akin to PG rather X.

The bill is supposed to substitute for the Communications Decency Act, parts of which the Supreme Court struck down. David Crain, a legislative assistant to Mr. Coats, points out the obscenity provisions of the statute were not struck down.

There are plenty of obscene Web sites out there, featuring bestiality, child porn, torture and snuff images but "the Clinton Justice Department has not ruled on one case," Mr. Crain says. Furthermore, Internet screening programs are of limited use because "commercial pornographers on the Web go to great lengths to get around blocking software to get random hits that bring in their business," he says. …