Justice Department Says Free Speech Not Stifled By Web Labeling Bill

from the first-amendment-interpretations dept

Earlier this year, when politicians were shoving each other aside to introduce legislation “for the children.” A popular bill was the one that would require websites with sexually explicit content to label themselves as such in some form or another. This idea is apparently so popular that, rather than a separate piece of legislation, it’s found itself as an amendment tacked on to various other laws, including the big telecom bill and a spending bill (the type no one ever votes down). Now, the Justice Department has weighed in on the issue — because requiring content providers to label themselves can be seen as a First Amendment violation. Not so, according to the Justice Department who says “this is not censorship.” Why not? Well, because they feel: “it’s not a major break with First Amendment principles.” Of course, they don’t really explain why — and just saying it doesn’t make it so. Plenty of others disagree, and note that this kind of legislation is quite problematic. The problem is pretty straightforward. Where is the line? What needs to be considered sexually explicit? What if it’s considered sexually explicit in the bible belt, but not on a coast? Who gets to decide? Considering how difficult people have agreeing on what is and is not objectionable content, this kind of law just opens up a huge potential mess of problems (not even getting into the fact that any borderline content will likely move to offshore servers). It’s one of these laws that will let politicians claim they’re doing something, while actually creating an even bigger mess.

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Comments on “Justice Department Says Free Speech Not Stifled By Web Labeling Bill”

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wraeth says:

Good Idea

I agree with the concept of this, in that web pages/sites with explicit material – or, in fact, any objectionable material – should be labelled in the code. As far as I am aware (I am by no means a web designer/coder), something like this already exists, and (at least with Internet Explorer) you can set it to block pages with certain content.

This sort of concept should be implemented, not just in the United States, but internationally. Each web site must have a tag that immediately indicates the type of content it contains, allowing end-user filters to prevent children from using sites with a specific content type.

However, the question does stand, who gets to decide what is ‘explicit’, and what is not?

Perhaps, instead of a tag labelling a site as “Sexually Explicit”, which is dependant on a perspective (for example, some people would class full-frontal non-contact nudity as explicit, while others would not), a reference system could be devised that flags each type of content (ie. “This site contains mild explicit language, partial and full-frontal nudity, cartoon-style nudity, references and descriptions (both textual and visual) to sexual acts; etc.).

From here, a person could tell the filter more accurately (and according to their perspective/belief) what they do and do not want to allow viewed.

However, maybe that would give parents the ability to shelter their children from the world a little too much. Note that I am not trying to tell people how to raise their children; I just feel that they need to be exposed to some real-world stimulation (pun intended) before they try to take it all on themselves.

But then, I probably belong in a white padded room, so feel free to ignore me… 😎

Steve E (user link) says:


Explicit or offensive content could easily be metatagged to allow people to apply settings to prevent it being visited. I know that machine readable content tags are appearing in certain applications (a move towards a more semantic web) so this could be implemented as a way to do this. It would allow those who want to block the option to and those who don’t would still be able to see everything they want to.

Something tells me the politicians are thinking more of an image or something like that as they are not the most technically adept…

Rabid Wolverine says:

Wide Open Web

What a load of crap. We would not need un-necessary laws if people were to suddenly grow a brain and realize that smut is smut. The only place that smut deserves to be is under some perverts mattress.

Whoever came up with the idea that pictures of naked women performing grotesque acts is free speech anyway? Do you really think that this is what the founding fathers intended?

I think we were taught at some point in the not so distant past that free speech was the ability to express VERBALLY what you believed in especially POLITICALY. It has nothing to do with pushing smut.

America, have you lost your mind? Has all those years on drugs rotted your brain?

Come on, free speech enables smut purveyors to show and sell porn over the internet to our kids? What is wrong with you people?

Mike Mixer (profile) says:

Re: Wide Open Web

For your information sir(I use the term loosely), There are a vast number of people who are not afraid of human sexuality and even celebrate the ease of which you can explore it on the web today. All of this fear of sex comes down to one thing and it isn’t fearing for the safety of children. The real reason for you’re fear of sex is that as long as it is visible and open you cannot control it. You can’t tell your the people in you congregation that it is evil and gross to have sex because anybody can find it on the web and see that it is fun and exciting and there are hundreds of ways to do it too. Quit trying to tell me how to live and watch yourself and how you conduct your life because it seems to me that over the last twenty or thirty years the main abusers of children have been religious fucksticks like yourself. Seeing a sexual act never hurt anybody unless they were told there eyes would fall out if they ever saw it so lay off and crawl back into your hole you parochial simpleton.

PaulM says:

is nudity, love, sex really harmful

should we be passing a law that makes it illegal for anyone, child or adult to ever be naked in private or public? should we make sex illegal? no, but this seems to be the direction the law is taking!

what matters is that children are allowed to grow up innocent until such time as they are mature enough to understand adult relationships, and to be strong enough to know what is reasonable/normal and reject attempts to abuse or exploit them. Only, in theory, are parents able to make such judgments because children gain maturity at different ages.

thus, I support the need to label goods, whether physical (video tape, DVD, books & magazines), or virtual (websites, video sites etc), or broadcast (TV, radio), such that parents can filter what their childen see.

labelling by itself does NOT impact free speech, merely requires those expressing free speech to respect the rights of people to their privacy and choices.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s stupid.

Obviously, one would want to label oneself in the best possible light for marketing.

Say I have a porn magazine – here I’ll apply a label to myself – MORE PORN THAN ANYONE ELSE! … how about that label?

Umm…. in case anyone forgot … X is a label … and I don’t really remember XX …. but there certainly is the label XXX. I don’t think sites, or magazines, really have a problem with the XXX label – they seem to like it!

Soooo what happens when the label becomes a marketing gimmick?


YESSSS!!! That’s what we need! More warnings, labels, denials of responsibility and liability! That will fix all of our societal problems!

4playR says:


i believe that ‘accessibility’ is the root cause why we need to label goods in a certain way.
Is labeling something good?…. In certain ways they are. I believe its true in case of smut. When there was lesser accesibility, it was not a huge problem. of course, accessing smut from under papa’s bed was prevelant even before internet came up. I beong to that era. But as on today, it, i believe, does pose a problem.

How to label the product/service? ( frontal non contact, frontal contact nudity, violence et al) has to be done after deliberation and debate. I do not have a solution to propose, yet.

here is a thing i have noticed about american values…. Free speech ? porn is free speech ? there is not one coherent sentence in a porn movie… so its not a question of speech! its more about ‘relief’…

I think its more relevant for today’s world that the ‘free speech’ quote has been misused and abused everywhere and anywhere….. time US citizens gave up some of the rights and make this a more suitable world for the whole spectrum of people all over the world.

I’m an Indian and i believe that we also have freedom… i also believe we know when water turns to wine…

Louis says:


In a perfect world, creators of … suggestive content would volunteer to label their content for the protection of those who do not wish to stumble onto said content. Thus rendering the free speech debate moot as it is a choice that the site creator made.

The labelling act itself would do little to inhibit people from visiting the sites if they have an interest to do so, but it could go far to warn one when one might travel to such a site by mistake.

Insofar as free speech are concerned, I’m all for it, as well as nudity and sex and everything that goes with it (I am dutch after all). But I still believe that we should be responsible about the things we wish to do freely.

And if porn site creators decide to label their content for the sake of others who do not wish to be exposed to it (from whom they probably won´t receive any revenue either), it would be a sign of integrity, not the defeat of free speech.

bigSteve says:

Free speech, heh?

I read this site all the time and find myself enjoying and sometimes even laughing at the sarcasm in some of the articles. The opinions i see pretty much match what I believe, so it’s an enjoyable visit every morning. Today is a little different though.

I read the comments attacted to this article and realize how many people “just don’t get it.” This entire issue has little to do with freedom of speech, or my favorite oneliner from completely useless politicians “protecting our children.” If you believe that, you’re a moron. It doesn’t work like that.

And labeling, ha… that doesn’t fix anything. Take a look at what type of enterprises you’re dealing with here. Do you think the porn industry, or some of the slimeball webmasters are going to adhere to your “you need a label your website” crap???

Here’s how it works. If you’re looking for porn, you’re going to find it. If you label it, it doesn not make it any more “secure.” The problem is the parents. If you want to protect the children, look to their parents, not to politicians. Start watching your kids and blaming others. If you want to protect your children, then do it and stop talking about it. Don’t make excuses that porn is too prevalent, turn off the computer or get up off your ass and watch your kids!!!

And last but not least to address “4playR” regarding one of the most popular quotes I’ve heard over the last 5 years – “time US citizens gave up some of the rights and make this a more suitable world for the whole spectrum of people all over the world”.

That quote shows either 1) You are not an American, or 2) You have no idea what it is to be an American. America is a great country and our freedoms are what gives us the the most free country in the world. If you give up a small freedom today, and a small freedom tomorrow, shortly, freedom is gone. Then we have a country the founding fathers defeated and wrote a constitution to prevent the rise of again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Free speech, heh?

I had mentioned that i was an Indian. And i have not the faintest idea what it is like to be an American. I can assure you I dont want to be an American either. It may be wrorking great for you, but it sucks for the rest of the world. I can essay on for eons on how i can prove myself right, but i wont, as this is not the forum.

If u were an American yourself, you would have known that US does not have a written constitution ?

And here is another debatable point in ur comment.

“If you give up a small freedom today, and a small freedom tomorrow, shortly, freedom is gone.”

I tend to disagree to it. There is a story that i had read when i was a little kid. It was about a shepherd boy crying “wolf’. The point is, when u start to cry wolf for necessary and unnecessary stuff, people stop caring. So, i believe, people need to know that ‘for the sake of society we live in’, we ought to give up a few things.

In many ways we already have given up a lot of things even if u r an american. Ex. gmail’s mail search.. ur privacy is shot to shit. but i never heard anyone complain so much as to change it ? infringements to our privacy happens everyday that our threshold to attack has gone up considerably.

Internet is a global medium and it does not belong to the US. If u say that u r an american and that u do not want to give up ur free speech, so be it. Its just that i dont give 2 hoots about it.

Guinness says:

Look I love the Net and I don’t want it to change (except for all the damn pop-ups), but you don’t see the adult book store in your city calling themselves Mary Poppin’s Children’s Book Store. No, they have a big sign “XXX Adult Book Store! We are clean and private.” I do not see the huge issue with this bill, because for one thing it cannot be enforced. Currently there is not a world governing body that has control on what end up on the web (Unless of live in China), and if there were then child pornography would not exist outside of IRC and some old style BBS systems. This also becomes pointless with the current upgrades being made to the US cellular networks you should see would my 14 year ago brother can stream on his V-Cast phone.

Angry internet user says:


This is the most asanine thing I have ever heard the US govt try to do. 9 out of 10 sexually explicit sites are already not only labeled with a big XXX but also a warning saying you must be 18 or older to enter.

Further As somebody replied to one of my other posts, The US govt can only pass laws affecting servers in the US, So if this legislation is passed the sexually explicit sites would only need go overseas, avoid this new law and disregard the need for any label proscribed by US law.

FURTHER, the govt cannot hope to control the internet without us becoming a nation that is alot like china. What’s next? Are we going to have to get a redirect just to get to Google? I think the Government is overstepping their bounds here big time.

james says:

better then guns

What is more sick, a movie with people hacking each other up with knives and chainsaws, or two people (or three) having sex? What is more sick, 15-year-olds having sex or a 15-year-old weighing 300 pounds and having diabetes? What is more sick, a society with images of naked people having sex, or a society where the police put bamboo shoots under the fingernails of people with a different political view?

Anonymous Coward says:

i have a view while in college (and well still do) that the .*** extention sould really relate to the content of the webpage.

governemnt should be .gov
news should be .nws
business should be .biz
religion should be .god
sex should be .sex or .xxx

that way, you can always filter out whatever. but then it’d be up to w3c to get on the bandwagon to endofce it. i doubt that’ll happen.

Next, someone mentioned that our founding fathers never imagined people having gratuitous sex was free speech. I would claim that they also never figured on civilians having handheld RPGs and 50-cal chainguns and sniper rifles under the the right to bear arms.

I DO think that they had enough insight to let the document be flexible enough to change with the times, yet rigid enough to support an overall structure that would carry through the years.

David says:

Re: Re:

You went to college and still spell extension “extention”, as well as having atrocious grammar? Please tell me which school, so I don’t send my kids there.

Nice try. But that’s what’s called a Top-Level Domain, or a Root Domain. The problem is that anyone can sign up for most any TLD, and put anything they want on it. I guarantee you that Disney would buy disney.sex, and redirect it to disney.com. Now you have no guarantee that all the content on .sex is sexual, and you could have people buying .com sites and redirecting them to .sex, so you’re screwed either way. The best bet is to just figured out how to deal with things you don’t like, and ignore them. If there wasn’t a market, they wouldn’t exist. Perhaps the problem isn’t in the Internet itself, but in society, and you should work on changing the root cause, rather than some symptoms that let you keep your head in the sand?

And about your proposed .god TLD… you do realize that not all religions believe in God, right? Hinduism has multiple gods, Shintoism and Paganism both have supernatural ideas without supreme supernatural beings. Or should we outlaw freedom of religion while we’re at it with the sex and all?

The first step for dealing with your problems isn’t legislation, it’s understanding the issue in the first place.

bigSteve says:

Re: Parental Responsibility

EXACTLY. The whole problem here is lack of parental responsibility. The last thing we need is one more stupid law that shirks the responsibility of parents.

The problem, as mentioned above is the ignorant, lazy, fat constituents. It’s unfortunate but this world has developed into people that are too lazy to turn off Jerry Springer, take the second bag of dorritos away from Jr. and make them go outside and play.

Anonymous Coward says:

Also, what hasn’t been mentioned yet …

US Elections are coming in about 6 weeks. This is the time for a lot of politicians running for Congress or the Senate to throw up stuipid crap that looks good to their ignorant constituents and then they can say … “I’m trying to protect your children! Look what I proposed! That’s why you should vote for me”. Never mind that it was stuipd to begin with, ill-conceived, wasn’t meant to have a snow balls chance in hell of passing, or was even really serious to begin with.

It’s politics. Something we ALL have in common … 🙂

ScytheNoire says:

every time someone brings up the concept of censorship, it makes me want to just vomit. censorship is nothing more than one group forcing their will upon another. why not just call it what it is, nazism.

i’m offended by all religions. i feel all religions should be banned. i now demand it as a devout atheist. ya, i’ll be waiting on the censorship of religion for ever i think.

so every time some religious zealots start talking about the censorship of language, movies, games, websites, etc., i just want to point out to them how offended i am by their own personal belief system and how religion is destroying the world (see news about Pope’s speech and Islamic murder rampage afterwards).

Religion will be the Apocalypse.

ebrke says:

Oh Please!

Even if this passes, it’s not going to affect servers based outside the US, so what is the damned point? What the religious right really wants is to ban pornography altogether. While I find pornography completely distasteful, I don’t want it legislated against because I firmly believe in the old “slippery slope” theory. Why can’t the religious zealots content themselves with not viewing pornography themselves and telling themselves that everyone who does is going to wind up in hell? Don’t they have any confidence in their ability to parent their children properly?

The Management says:


I’m sorry Mr. R. Wolverine. Your recent post on Techdirt contained the following objectionable words:

– Crap
– Drugs
– Smut
– ‘kill you’

As you felt the need to air these viewpoints without labeling your post we will be removing it from the comments section. As an additional safetty measure, for the good of the community, we’ll also be removing your Internet connection.

The Management

>> See, that’s what happens when you decide it’s OK for someone to determine what’s morally right or wrong for the world at large and when you put yourself forward as the arbiter of decency. Sometimes you’ll be on the loosing end. Maybe we should just let people decide what’s best for each person, M’kay?

will says:


“In a perfect world, creators of … suggestive content would volunteer to label their content for the protection of those who do not wish to stumble onto said content. Thus rendering the free speech debate moot as it is a choice that the site creator made. The labelling act itself would do little to inhibit people from visiting the sites if they have an interest to do so, but it could go far to warn one when one might travel to such a site by mistake. Insofar as free speech are concerned, I’m all for it, as well as nudity and sex and everything that goes with it (I am dutch after all). But I still believe that we should be responsible about the things we wish to do freely. And if porn site creators decide to label their content for the sake of others who do not wish to be exposed to it (from whom they probably won´t receive any revenue either), it would be a sign of integrity, not the defeat of free speech.”

All porn site are already labeled, by their meta tags and the keywords they use. Search engines index them everyday. Every adult site out there is fighting for the top search engine result for “xxx gangbang a$$ orgy” or whatever.

Why labeling is useless:

1. Just about the first thing any curious kid does, reliably and undeniably, is to figure out how to disable those annoying filters mommy put on their computer. Kids are more tech saavy than their parents these days. Keeping a computer in a public part of the house is the only solution.

2. Great, youve labeled all the sites in the US. The millions of other porn sites worldwide remain unlabeled. You have done nothing but added useless restrictions on an already overly regulated industry. Good work!

People keep pretending there is an answer, other than watching your kids while they are on the computer. There isnt. Its just not technically possible. Kids want to see the bad stuff. You outlaw it here, it will be available from another country. You install filtering software, your kids will uninstall it. You cant solve this problem with laws. EVER!

Anonymous Coward says:

Not to mention porn popups and spyware.

I think that stuff should have a label also –

“Beware! In case you couldn’t tell by the naked people below, this pop up contains pornographic images! If you don’t want to see pornographic images on your popups, you should invest in some good spyware removal tools! Have a nice day from your friendly porn spyware popup installer staff.”

Robert says:

on the utter nonesense of subjectivity

One of the most ridiculous intellectual blunders the modern mind came upon was: if we cant agree on what it is morally right, then we should not try to do anything at all. Firstly, how will we agree, secondly, what it create too much red tape?


who cares?

its good they are not in the majority

Dont let moral sunbjectivity, a bunkrupt ideology, create anarachy, its true spiritual goal…anarachy is not spiritual. spirituality is balance and poise and a decision, about the path to walk

bigSteve says:

Your spirituality

is crap. Walk a line if you want. Follow the blind, blindly, I don’t care. When you tell me I have to follow you, that’s when I have a problem. Your morals are not mine, so quit trying to push them. If they were so good, you probably wouldn’t have to push them in the first place.

It all comes back to what “Will” said above. “People keep pretending there is an answer, other than watching your kids while they are on the computer.”

Don’t bring your semi-religious, super-spiritual, ultra-hypocrytical, blind faith into an argument solved if parents take responsibility.

wraeth says:

Smut and Parents

A few points.

Firstly, yes. Smut is smut. Smut, pornography, sexually explicit images. I think we all know what it is. And I think that we all know that it is there, and that it always will be. And what’s more, half of the time, the webmasters don’t care about what is on it, just so long as they get people visiting their site.

Yes, parents are the overall people in control of their child(ren)s upbringing, and to that end, have a responsibility to maintain vigilance, ensuring that they do not get too wayward. I did not read in either this main article, or any that it referenced, that the government was trying to take over the task of parenting in any way. It is just a possibility – to introduce controls to allow people the ability to filter what is accessible.

In my first post on this article, there was one key work I said, and for a tech forum, I’m ashamed that no-one picked it up, immediately jumping to “the politicians are trying to ‘protect the children’, but that should be the parents job”. People, hello? END-USER! If web sites have a metatag stating the content type, that means that parents have the controls to prevent their children from accessing ‘sexually explicit’ material, as well as whatever else they shouldn’t be looking at. It also means the same for businesses – I work at a school, for example, and if I hade a system to arbritrarily block sites that the students shouldn’t visit based on content rather than a domain name being reported, I would have a much easier time!

Yes, my computer has an off button. So does yours. So does every other computer. But should I prevent people (not just children) from accessing the Internet – a global resource for information as well as communication – just because there is so much content that is ‘unsuitable’? How would you all go without Techdirt?

Yes, it’s the parents responsibility to raise their child(ren) appropriately. But should that mean that the government cannot provide a tool that assists in this task? Tell me, if you see a mother down the street, three children about her ankles, carrying several bags of shopping, and one of the bags break spilling the contents on the pavement, would you stop and offer your assistance in picking up the shopping, or would you veer out of the way, thinking that ‘nah, she’ll get it done … eventually’?

But, I suppose, I’m just pissing in the wind. As ebrke said, even if this, or something similar, was enacted, it would only be in America, and whats more, it would probably be ignored by most anyway – for example, hacking sites. I’m sure that there would be a, or several, cagories for hacking, and then the reigonal-specific distributions of browsers would automatically block that based on laws for that reagion, and so to be heard, the Hackers would bypass it by either ignoring the requirement for a metatag, or providing a false tag. Obviously this doesn’t apply just to hackers.

One method of enforcing this, however, is to make all browsers accept only pages that have this metatag, completely barring sites that dont (it cannot cause any financial damage, as it is just one line of code in an HTML text file that you can add with notepad). But, then, there is still the issue of falsifying the metatag.

Don’t mind me, I’m just half asleep and had a bad hair day… :-/

bigSteve says:

Re: Smut and Parents

If you work at a school, you should know this “simple metatag” that everyone keeps referring to won’t work. Unless you have an internet governing body to enforce the metatag solution, no one will comply. And if 85% of the XXX sites comply, you still need to implement a domain name filter. Now you and every other school need to implement, and maintain two systems, for how much added benefit.

One another note, is it just one “metatag?” It seems like billions and billions of metatags need to be added, to billions and billions of pages. I doubt a change like that will be embraced, not matter if it’s business or smt.

If you’re going to have browsers only support sites with those metatags, now browser code needs to be modified, who’s going to do that? A change of the magnitude this law suggest is utterly asinine, and shows the ignorance of all that suggest it.

And just to take and extra dig, nothing will replace the responsibility of parents

Jon (profile) says:

Think of it at those TV rating labels, except that they don’t actually have to appear on the screen. It’s just a single tag of code that computers can read and humans never have to see. All this does is give more power and control to parents and takes nothing away from anyone else.

I hate censorship because I think it’s the parents’ responsibility to protect their children. This helps parents, and it the ideal alternative to censorship.

Mie says:

WTF: "Good Idea by wraeth"

Hey “wraeth” – what the fuck is “objectionable”? Objectionable to who, where? Who the fuck are you to define what that is? “Objectionable” to you and yours where you are mean sweet suck all to me and mine where I am. Over here we DON’T have a hangup with bear tits. Maybe that’s a problem where YOU are. But not here. Maybe in some other place there’s a problem with bare female FACES.

Are you getting the fucking point yet?

Jon73 says:

Truth is we are talking about putting ratings on websites, and to put these ratings into effect we will need government funded research councils to ‘discover’ the best rating method, and a government funded entity to police and inspect website to ensure that they are following this standard. This is a significant amount of monetary expenditure for what? Labeling a website? I hate to break it to everyone here but kids now a days have enough knowledge to outsmart many of their parents when it comes to technology. You lock the Internet Explorer browser down – they will get Fire Fox, you block that, then they can jump to another browser say (Opera, Netscape, etc), you block that and they will download via anyone of a THOUSAND P2P utilities. If you lock down the ENTIRE computer, they go to a friend’s house or hell use their cell phone. Most new phones have browsers built in them and I have never seen one with parental controls. Quite honestly if you want to protect children you have to teach them rules and lines not just dictate them. Demanding legislation like this will affect many people world wide, both monetarily and ethically. Companies will have to pay to enact and build into their products compliance if they want entry into the US market place and ethically we are forcing the opinions and beliefs of some US citizens on the entirety of the internet – which is a global entity. And to those people who are reading this and saying ‘parenting isn’t that simple’ well I would agree, it isn’t meant to be. Your kids will break your rules, they will see and do what you don’t think is right and it’s your job to put them back in line. Kids still get into R rated movies, despite the rating systems. Kids still drink alcohol, despite the regulations. Kids still smoke pot, despite the laws. But if you teach them the risks and why not to do it you will prevent them from doing it habitually.

nunya_bidness says:

What is the "Problem"

With or with out porn(use your own definition), there really is no problem. Only the perception of a problem, and therefore something to blame for the “problem”. Let me clarify, kid masturbates…blame porn, priest rapes child…blame porn, man cheates on wife…blame porn. People do something wrong…blame something else, see the pattern? It is an imaginary problem invented to shift the blame to something or someone else. All these “problems” happened and will happen, with or without porn. All the laws in the world cannot stop them, BUT, if you convince enough people that your intentions are good and you will “save the children”, you will be a hero. And people get to blame someone else for their problems, so they can take the easy way out.

Mystif says:

What is harmful?

If we were all in a room together and I asked you to raise your hand if you were severely, horribly traumatized by finding porn under your father’s bed/side of the bed how many of you would really raise your hands?

I imagine that there would not be many.

Does that mean that we do not need tools to prevent our children from seeing what we, as parents, do not want them to see? No.

But we need to understand that no matter what safeguards are used that sometimes children will still find a way. Thats what parents are there for.

I have always liked the idea of being able to create a set of rules (laws, guidelines… whatever) that enable people to customize what they, or their children are exposed to WITHOUT barring those who do want the exposure.

One such compromise is a .xxx/.sex/.adu domain. Tags could enhance this. Wouldn’t it be great if Sex, Pharmaceuticals, Drugs and Weapons were all under a .adu domain? With tags you could then choose. Your eight year-old child gets nothing from .adu, but you can still lookup your medications, or whatever.

This just means that you are in charge of what happens in your house to your child.

The problem that I see with the above is that it is still not perfect. Ok, you control what happens in your house, but what if you are at a public library and want to lookup information about your medications. Is there enough flexibility in both the system and the minds of the people who are in charge of what the library computers can and cannot do? If not, it has failed.

Balance has always been the problem. The solution needs flexibility but so do the minds of the people controlling it. Remember NetNanny? It prevented children from researching beavers because the word beaver is also slang. That is not the solution. Children who want to research mammals should be able to do so and adults who want to view things that many modern industrial societies say children should not should also be able to do so.

Simply enough I feel that something like an adult domain would be a good place to start. One, it doesn’t single out producers of porn, but rather creates a way to channel what the majority seems to believe is of an adult nature. Two, the establishment of an adult domain does not restrict people who want to view the content from accessing it.

Tags enhance the concept well. For example, if the community at large has decided weapons are too adult for children they would be under .adu. If your child is good with a bow and arrow and you want them to be able to research the various ones for sale you should be able to block your child from .adu except where there is a weapon-bow-and-arrow tag. (I realize that what takes place behind the scenes would likely be much more complicated than what I just described.)

I used to know a girl who was 15, at the time. Everyday her mailbox would just fill up with ads for Viagra and pictures of things she had not yet experienced (‘nuf said). She would have gladly turned off access to much of this content herself if she had the tools to do it. I didn’t bother with e-mail back then, but I looked around on the Internet for a solution. At that time we both came up empty handed.

Years ago spam filters were just a pipe dream, do you have one protecting your e-mail today? Do you feel like your rights were violated when you stopped receiving the ad with a woman on one side, a man on the other and fluids being shot through the air?

I do not miss that ad, or the hundreds like it. I choose to filter my mail. I choose how it is filtered. I enjoy reading my e-mail more now that I get what I want and discard the rest.

I also enjoy knowing that if there are ads, etc. that I would like to receive I can allow it.

I get newsletters in my e-mail. When I first subscribed I didn’t get them. I checked and sure enough they were marked as spam, but I wanted them – “one mans trash…” I had to change my filters to allow it and I would have been quite pissed if someone took that ability away from me in order to protect me or whatever.

So what is a BALLANCED solution to the problem? What allows person “A” to re-experience their puritanical roots and person “B” to be a hedonist and keep both of them happy? That’s what I would like to know…

Anonymous Coward says:

to david, with love

sorry, i type fast and don’t mind simple mistakes. but just to have some fun it should be “the best bet is to figure out” not “the best bet is to figured out” but that’s neither here nor there.

i do know that posing the .god/.rel(religion for you multi/no god having peoples too)/.sex/.xxx/.wtf/.*** has major problems. with that would require a complete “police” force for the web/net. as i said the w3c does a good job at keeping the web up with standards and information and whatnot. it’s just going to be tough to make sure all billions of websites and whatnot are correctly tagged, linked and identified. the pure time involved is amazingly large.

but ohwell….life is that…life. then it’s over. and reember in 5 billion years or so, the sun will eat the earth and the solar system will die.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is not a good idea.

First, trying to enforce such a law. It’s a joke, just like every law about spam is. The Internet is worldwide and trying to force US laws upon other nations is impossible.

Second, parents need to actually parent. The Internet is a very dangerous place, in more ways than one. Pornography is only one danger presented to children on the net. You wouldn’t let your children play in a dangerous junk yard, so why do so many parents feel it’s okay to let their kids loose on the Internet or for that matter their right to have their children protected for them. Protecting children from this kind of content is a parents job, not the governments.

Third, the only reason there is so much porn on the net is because there is a market for it. It’s not like so many people spend their free time putting this stuff on the net with no expectation of income. People do it because there is money to be made, it’s a business, and a legal business at that. It’s capitalism and competition at it’s best. LOL

In conclusion if you don’t like something, don’t visit it. If you’re a parent, step up and take the responsibility that you assumed when you decided to bare offspring. Your children should be your responsibility, not mine. There ara plenty of methods to protect your children, it just takes some time and effort on your side as a parent.

EK says:

Let the people do it

A lot of people on here have talked about the assumption that there needs to be some organization that ranks and decides the tags for websites. But why don’t they just setup a system that normal internet users can use to rank/tag/rate pages based on their content. The web has shown that user communities that work together can thrive (i.e. Wikipedia, etc.). And it shouldn’t necessarily be about an opinion, just very objective questions – does it contain this, this, this, etc. People can determine their own level of what objectionable material is by tweaking the settings in their software.

This would require some company or organization to host a centralized server that could be accessed by filtering programs, but it wouldn’t really even take that much extra overhead on a search engines servers…they’re already indexing everything on the web anyway.

I’m also sure there are some non-profits out there that would take something like this under management. Maybe not completely, but at least someone to review websites that have had extremely different reviews associated with them, or have been flagged as incorrectly tagged, etc.

Besides, if there were tags, it doesn’t necessarily have to block everything without some user intervention. I’ll be the first to tell you I wholeheartedly agree with having a filter on a computer that kids are accessing, but sometimes they can be absolutely ridiculous.

But, it could work like your standard IE security settings, with which you generally have 3 choices – allow, block, and prompt. If something has been set to prompt, because in some settings, the website might “technically” match the tags, but it might be an exception, just let it prompt you – “This website is reported to have so and so objectionable content containing these tags: 1, 2, etc.” Then, it would log the decision and be on with it.

I do believe wholeheartedly in protecting kids from bad situations, but I’m also a firm believer in trusting them with some responsibility so they can construct proper morals in themselves. And with this type of system, a parent can decide whether to block or prompt, etc.

As for deciding what you should block on a computer, well that wouldn’t be to hard – just have a list of all the objective tags for people to check. I’m sure there could also be a less subjective “Content Quiz” that someone could offer, for instance, it will ask you less direct questions about what you might find objectionable – somewhat similar to like a psych exam.

So many people on here are suggesting that “the government is trying to block me from seeing all of the internet.” This isn’t the case at all, it’s merely setting up a system so that YOU and ME can decide what content we want being viewed on our computers, I don’t see why that makes everyone get into such a fuss.

Oh and the argument that “if we do this, it’s only on the US servers and everyone will just move to offshore servers.” Why this may be partially true, so freakin what! Don’t you think we should at least do what we can with what we have to make the internet a more inviting place for people to enjoy without being bombarded by junk? Besides, maybe by setting up a system like this we could possibly set a precedent for other countries and organizations.

Rangy Bear says:

A more fundemental problem

I’m curious as to the criteria for determining what unacceptable material is? Is a skillfully craftred black and white image of a nude person considered “unacceptable” because it may show genitalia? This is a matter of personal values and they can only be applied at a personal level. Trying to hang a label on a highly subject concept is a bit like trying to shovel against the tide. Sure you can do it, but noting gets accomplished.

As for actually placing labels, I think that enough people have already beat this dead horse enough already.

It boils down to personal responsibility and for parents of minor children it is parental responsibility. Quite trying to get someone else to raise your children. They are your responsibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

i’m kinda sick of the oh..parents need to parent statement as well.

we don’t live in a society where kids spend 24/7 with their faimly. they attend school, visit friends, play sports, this that and the other thing..

it is easy to control something when it is by you 24/7. but if kids have access outside of the home, namely at school or even worse a friends house, bam, what u gonna do?

jimmy’s parents might not have the same “moral” belife as you, and what’s your kid gonna do? turn away and squirm? or look at it?

if they look away, they are dorks and get made fun of, if they look they are now corrupt. damn this world…damn it to hell

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

i’m kinda sick of the oh..parents need to parent statement as well.

we don’t live in a society where kids spend 24/7 with their faimly. they attend school, visit friends, play sports, this that and the other thing..

I think you’re sorta missing the point on the “parenting” issue. No one is saying to *WATCH* your kid 24/7, but to teach them right from wrong and good moral judgment, so that they know how to take care of themselves, and not be permanently scarred for life should they see or be around something “not good.” It’s about teaching your kid that not everything in life is perfect, and they need to know how to deal with different and uncomfortable situations. That’s what parenting is.

wraeth says:

RE: WTF: “Good Idea by wraeth” by Mie
What the fuck is your problem, Mie? In none of my posts did I state ‘this and this are objectionable’. In my first fucking post, dumbass, I said that it was a matter of perspective! Or is your head too far up your own ass to see that?

RE: Re: Re: Good Idea by Anonymous Coward
Thank you, Anonymous Coward, but I am not preaching to anyone about anything, let alone religion. Think, if you had children, say a seven-year-old daughter, and she was using the Internet. She wants to find a picture of barbed wire for a project, so she goes to a search engine, types it in, and get pictures of people sticking barbed wire up their ass. If you had the ability to immediately and automatically prevent that page from being shown, would you use it?

I know that the practicality of governing a system such as this would be next to impossible, but does that mean that we should just stop talking about it? And Mike is right, it isn’t censorship. Tell me, would you all like your children to be able to go to the video store and buy all the porn that they want?

As for re-coding software, bigSteve, have you used computers for more than a month? Applications are re-coded, recompiled and redistributed all the time, allowing for fixing bugs, upgrading base-code, and the addition of new features. I agree with you, from my perspective as a net admin at a school, chances are it wouldn’t work. But neither does DNS filtering. It would just provide another method of more fully managing the problem – I don’t want someone’s parents ringing up and complaining that I let them watch Mary and her Little Lamb!

And for the record, I’m athiest, so don’t go giving me some bullshit about shoving religious morals down everyone’s throat. I’m merely contributing to a conversation (if conversation you could call this…).

craig says:

Even if this was a good idea (which it isn’t), it’s not only unworkable, it’s dangerously unworkable.

A recent woman’s magazine about parenting had an article about breastfeeding. As part of the article, it included a photo of a baby breastfeeding. No nipple showing, just a diffuse pink round thing and a babies head.

The magazine was flooded with complaints from women saying it was “obscene,” pornography, sickening, disgusting, etc.

What about Robert Mapplethorpe photos? What about articles aimed at teenage girls to teach them about their own menstruation?

There is a HUGE religious push in this country, and those people would consider ALL of that material offensive. Do you really want them deciding for you?

Do you really want ANYONE deciding for you?

Are you that afraid, that worried that you want someone ELSE to decide for you what images you should see, what discussions you can take part in?

Don’t talk to me about children – do you want someone ELSE deciding for your child what they are exposed to?

What makes you so sure that YOU would agree with what THEY decide?

wraeth says:

Re: Censorship

RE: by craig
Craig, in your comment you are referring to censorship. This proposal has nothing to do with any faction/government/group deciding for anyone what they should or should not view. It is a proposal for the introduction of a method to allow parents to restrict what their children view on the Internet according to their own beliefs.

Parents using content tags to determine what their children are able to access, not another party enforcing what they believe to be appropriate.

wraeth says:

RE: barbed wire by Anon

First off, let me say that I only used that as an example, as when I was in school, I had to redesign the cover of a book (coincidentally, Briar Rose, a story about the Holocaust), and one of my friends searched images.google for the phrase ‘barbed wire’, and told me of the results. While I should have verified this, and I apologize for not doing so, the point does still stand – the possibility of searching for a legitimate, seemingly-benign topic can produce rather … unexpected … results.

However, I can’t see the point you are trying to make with Auschwitz and Vietnam. If you are referring to my apparently overwhelming desire to block everything but the Telly Tubbies, then as with everone else who has taken a shot at me, you are mistaken. I’m not saying ‘this and this should be blocked, verbatim’. What I am saying is that a system such as described in the opening article would give parents the means of blocking material that they deem as unsuitable for their children.

wraeth says:

Browser Recoding

Another point for dealing with the fact that not all webmasters will comply, for whatever reason: Add a feature to browsers that parse the page/site for the content metatag. If the tag exists, end-users can filter by the content. If the metatag doesn’t exist, then end-users can also filter by this – allow people the choice to block pages/sites that do not have the content metatag, therefore accounting for an ‘objectionable’ site (based on the preference of the end-user) not having it’s metatag.

Anyone what to take a shot at me about this post enforcing censorship or taking a high-and-mighty stance on what is ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’?

Max says:

arbitrary definitions serve a limited purpose

Ambiguous and vague definitions only invite unfair discretionary use to target example cases. While we hear complaints the conservative christian right about judges creating legislation through interpretation of laws this kind of thing is geared either from ignorance of the complexities involved, or to allow test cases to be pushed forward that set legal precedents through how the courts interpret them.

Vague rules lead to arbitrary enforcement and that’s not a good thing in a free world or democratic society. What is explicit is difficult to define. As one post suggested, women’s faces are considered explicit content in some parts of the world. That fine line can easily extend to prevent access to historical art (burn the Reubens and clothe the naked statues), or to censoring girls in bathing suits. It all boils down to what explicit means and who gets to define it for their own purposes.

Historically we haven’t done that well with this kind of definition and obscenity trials have largely failed to clearly define what is obscene. Which is why there are such efforts to continue to legislate morality. The current government has taken the battle against porn from a context of fighting child porn to making test cases on adult porn in small courts around the US to push cases up to the supreme court to better define obscenity. The Attorney General alienated the FBI when he pushed them away from fighting real crime amd terrorism into these adult porn cases. See, for example: http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1125318960389

This kind of posturing is intended to create opportunities to flood the courts with cases defining obscenity. On the same target range are curse words on cable TV and simulated sex scenes on prime time TV. People are being fined on radio for talking about taking a shit.

We aren’t that far away from trials that attempted to ban books as obscene (Ginsberg’s Howl, Joyce’s Ulysses, for example) and if you look at the list of books being banned today in various contexts it’s frightening in scope. Books like Catcher in the Rye, Huckelberry Finn and Harry Potter are already being banned from libraries. Wake up, people.

The comments suggesting an international labelling scares me as it’s a logical step from a web content labeling system to encouraging international censorship. Look at the issues and concerns raised with major US companies catering to Chinese censors.

It’s nice to dream of some kind of voluntary labeling system. But look at what happened with music labeling. The parental advisories merely helped push and market the material it was supposed to be preventing from getting in kids hands.

Anything clearly defined and labelled as off limits merely puts a target on it that makes the curious find a way to get there anyway. The anti-drug commercials probably do as much to foster interest and curiousity in drug use just because it’s clear there is a propaganda movement to steer people away from it.

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