US Senate toys with domain

The US Senate has begun formal consideration of a bill to create, a second-level Internet domain that would serve by...

The US Senate has begun formal consideration of a bill to create, a second-level Internet domain that would serve by serving up only material deemed appropriate for children.

The Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space held a hearing on a Senate version of a bill that passed the House earlier this year.

Under the Senate bill, Web sites would offer material deemed "suitable for and not harmful to minors". Supporters say the second-level domain would help make parents more aware of what sites their kids are surfing and, in turn, prevent kids from viewing pornography and other content harmful to minors on the Web. But civil liberties groups are wary.

"We have two main concerns. The first is government should not be involved in content rules; the second is, will it really be effective," said Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) policy analyst Rob Courtney. "Unless we somehow restrict children to only see things in dot kids, we haven't done a lot."

Alan Davidson, associate director of CDT, told the sub-committee that the mandated creation of a domain would set a dangerous precedent for regulation of the domain name space. In addition it would create new concerns about free expression online and would be ineffective in protecting children from inappropriate content.

The creation and maintenance of under the Senate bill "inappropriately involves the government in making decisions about what material should and should not be available on the Internet", Davidson said.

The Senate bill would require NeuStar, company that has been administering the .us domain since March, to make decisions about what is suitable for minors and not harmful to minors. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) would oversee this effort, determining whether Neustar operates in accordance with the mandates of the bill.

To make effective for parents, the site must be monitored stringently, the CDT said. The kind of enforcement necessary to make the site safe for children would be expensive and difficult, and that money would be better spent educating children and parents how to be safe when using the Web and about the tools already available to filter inappropriate content, Courtney said.

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