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Friday, April 23, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 137

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EDITORIAL BOARD

John Harp                Ed De La Garza 
Michelle Norton     Jim Parsons 
 

Uncle Sam, the new Net Nanny?

Tuesday, the government unveiled a proposal that would require commercial Web sites to obtain parental consent before collecting data from young children.

"Protecting kids who surf the Internet has been a top priority of the commission's online privacy initiative," Federal Trade Commission Chairman Robert Pitofsky said.

The FTC voted 4-0 in favor of the proposed bill, which was so sketchy it left people scratching their heads in bewilderment.

The proposed rules set out no requirements for parental consent but suggest several approaches. For example, "parents might sign and return a consent form by fax or mail, use a credit card, dial a toll-free number or e-mail their consent accompanied by a valid digital signature."

The problem with these types of consent forms is that they can easily be forged or manipulated. Any kid with a bare minimum of computer skills and a modem can fake an e-mail verification.

"We are taking the position that e-mail is not verifiable," said Katherina Kopp, a member of the Center for Media Education.

Such a policy would compromise the will of the Congress and the privacy rights of families, Kopp said, adding that mechanisms to verify parental consent should be left up to the Internet industry and not the FTC.

The problem with this strategy is that the Internet is not going to set any significant regulations on itself. That is what the FTC is supposed to do. Isn't it?

Regulations should have been enacted a long time ago. The Internet has now become such a large and booming industry that any regulation is nearly impossible. The proposal will die once the FTC starts to undertake the task.

Perhaps the simplest solution to preventing a child from accessing or giving information to inappropriate Web sites is for parents to monitor their children's Internet habits. They would, in essence, be taking responsibility for their child's welfare -- a job they should already be doing.

Anything has to be better than letting the government try to come up with ways to safeguard a child's privacy.

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