Domain for Kids Nears Approval
WASHINGTON, D.C.--A bill that would establish a cyberspace safe zone for kids was passed easily by the House Tuesday and is headed for the Senate, where supporters are ready with a companion bill.
Under the legislation, a kid-safe Web space under the top-level domain .us would be monitored to contain only sites deemed appropriate for children 12 and under. NeuStar, which administers the .us domain, would be responsible for policing .kids.us.
Senators Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and John Ensign of Nevada are preparing to introduce a companion bill as soon as early June, says Representative John Shimkus (R-Illinois), author of the House measure, House Resolution 3833. Having a like proposal originating in both houses often hastens a bill's acceptance.
"There is no logical reason why the Senate would not pass the bill," adds Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a co-sponsor.
The .kids.us domain is meant to "supplement, not supplant" private-sector efforts to give kids safe places to surf on the Web, because participation in the domain would be purely voluntary for companies, Markey says. Also, it would affect only a corner of the .us domain, without placing restrictions on domains like .com and .net.
The legislation would also require that chat rooms, instant messaging services, and e-mail be monitored by NeuStar. Hyperlinking to sites outside the kid-safe sub-domain would be prohibited. Also, NeuStar can return control of the domain to the Commerce Department if the financial burden becomes too great.
Digital rights groups, including the Center for Democracy and Technology, have watched the bill warily since its introduction. While sympathetic to Congress's desire for child-appropriate content, the center doubts the legislation would actually help kids find safe haven on the Web.
"Closed space and heavy restriction on the Internet will create a false sense of security," says Rob Courtney, a policy analyst at the center. Monitoring thousands of Web pages would be expensive and time-consuming, Courtney says. He is also unconvinced that companies will jump on the .kids bandwagon. Kid-oriented sites like Disney.com are already available, he notes.
The strict regulations for .kids.us sites, like policing of chat rooms and removal of external links, may deter companies from becoming part of such an ordeal. Lisa Melsted, an analyst for the Internet research and consulting company Yankee Group, agrees that ensuring all .kids.us content is safe is a daunting task. She also wonders whether parents will be satisfied with NeuStar's standards of what is appropriate for their children.
A designated domain for kids is not intended as a substitute for parental supervision, says Representative Fred Upton (R-Michigan), another co-sponsor of the bill. He emphasizes that .kids.us does not take away from parents' interest in controlling their children's surfing habits.
"This will help parents establish a firewall, so that kids will learn to use the Internet in a safe way, and will be prepared to use it in a responsible fashion as they mature," Upton says.