FREEDOM ON THE NET WON'T IMPEDE GOOD PARENTING
When the Communications Decency Act became law on February 8th, the government took the place of parents all across America and began making decisions about what children should or shouldn't see.
The law criminalizes "indecency" in the Internet. "Indecency" is not defined. As parents, we know perfectly well what we consider inappropriate for our children, but we wonder whether our standards matter any more. Art museums who have put their collections on line may choose to remove images of art with nudes for fear of violating the law. Many such museums are too far away for us to visit with our children in person, so our standards for our children will be replaced by those of a government censor.
As our children grow older, we will change our standards about what is appropriate for them. Perhaps I would want my daughter to access on line information about breast self-examination. But what she needs won't matter. That information won't be there, because the only way to be safe under such a vague law is to make everything on the Internet proper for 5 year-olds.
The Internet is like any town in America. There are wonderful places for children to visit. There are art and science museums, libraries, and drawings and messages from other children. There are also places where children do not belong. There are books which are too mature for younger children and places where adults converse as they would when no children are in the room. There are places where doctors discuss subjects which are not appropriate for children. When we travel with our children in our home town, we take them only to places suitable for children. When we travel on the Internet, we use the same rule.
In many ways it is much easier to keep a child safe on the Internet than in our home town. We accompany our children when we travel on the Internet. Other parents use very sophisticated but easy to use software programs which allow them to prevent objectionable material from reaching their children. They can view a log of all that their children have seen and all the places their children have visited that day. Where else can a parent have such complete control and information about their children's activities? Other parents rely on the trust that develops between a parent and child to know that their child will not break the family's rules on the Internet or at the mall.
The Internet is also safer because it is almost impossible to stumble upon inappropriate material. In our home town, our children may see a movie poster or overhear conversation on a street corner that we would rather they didn't. On the Internet, we feel safe in knowing that our children will see and hear only material that we deliberately seek out for them.
And yet the government, instead of choosing the constitutional and unintrusive means of letting parents care for their own children, chose instead the heavy handed approach which will require the entire Internet to be brought down to the level of a 5 year-old. Technology has answered the need to keep children safe in the form of personal software which is now and has been available free from many on line companies for a year. It is such a simple and effective solution one wonders how anyone could think the CDA was necessary.
Last December, we founded Families Against Internet Censorship to oppose the bill that created the new censorship law. We are now a part of a law suit seeking to have that law declared unconstitutional. Our co-plaintiffs include the American Library Association, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the American Booksellers Association, the Newspaper Association of America, the Association of American Publishers, the Society of Professional Journalists, every major company in the on-line industry and many others.
Some people are claiming that the only reason to oppose the CDA is because you want children to be exposed to inappropriate material. This doesn't explain the many families in our organization who want only to keep the privilege and right of making decisions about, protecting and raising their own children. Our members are real parents who actually use the Internet with their children. They oppose this law.
Our goal is to defeat this ill-conceived law so that the thousands and thousands of American families following us into this remarkable electronic world will find the net as free and useful as we have as parents. The on-line world should have the same constitutional protections as print enjoys in our democracy. Without such protections, the net will wither without ever achieving its promise of enhancing American communities and American families, like ours.
Barry and Michele Fagin are the parents of two children and founders of Families Against Internet Censorship. If you would like to know more or read what other American families are saying, visit our web page http://www.rmi.net/~fagin/faic).