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Senate Bill Addresses Internet Safety in Schools
Posted by Kylie McGee on Thursday, September 20, 2007
Measure Will Require E-Rate-funded Schools to Teach Students to Use Internet With Caution
A new Senate bill dubbed "Protecting Children in the 21st Century" would require schools receiving E-Rate funds to educate their students about Internet safety and block unsupervised student access to social networking sites and chat rooms. Advocates of the bill say it's a more sensible approach to safeguarding kids from cyber crimes, including those committed by online predators, than previous attempts by Congress to do so.
If passed, the bill - originally introduced on January 4 and reintroduced on August 2 by sponsors Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) of the Senate Commerce Committee - would amend existing E-Rate requirements to ensure that schools, as part of their Internet safety policy, educate minors about appropriate online behavior. Instruction would include how to recognize and respond to "cyber bullying" and how to safely interact on social networking websites and in chat rooms.
Secondly, the legislation would direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to carry out a nationwide public awareness campaign to promote safe use of the Internet by children. The agency also would serve as a clearinghouse for web-safety information that could be accessed by state and local governments, schools and other appropriate entities. The bill would authorize $5 million in 2008 and 2009 for such purposes, and it would require the FTC to submit an annual report to Congress regarding its activities to promote Internet safety.
Thirdly, the U. S. Department of Commerce would be required to establish an Online Safety and Technology Working Group that would bring together representatives from the technology industry, public interest groups and other appropriate agencies to (1) review and evaluate industry efforts to promote parental-control technologies, including blocking and filtering technologies and age-appropriate labeling; (2) report evidence of apparent child pornography; (3) detail industry practices regarding the retention of data that may be used to identify and prosecute crimes against children; and (4) support the development of new technologies that will help parents shield their children from inappropriate online material. The working group would report its findings and recommendations within one year.
Finally, the bill would require Internet service providers to report child pornography. Failure to report it would result in tripled fines.
"The Internet is a powerful medium," said Senator Inouye. "But that power must not be used to prey on our nation's children. This bill takes important steps to promote online safety and aid parents in their efforts to protect their children from harm on the Internet. It educates parents and children on safe Internet use, strengthens laws to identify and prosecute crimes involving child pornography, and supports industry efforts to create better parental control technologies to block and filter inappropriate content. Combined, these efforts will help reduce the risk of children becoming victims to online crime."
The legislation comes after last year's failed Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), drafted by Representative Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pennsylvania), which passed in the House by a vote of 410 to 15 but did not reach a vote in the Senate. Critics of DOPA said the bill was too broad and likely would have prevented educators from taking full advantage of using the Internet as a tool for teaching and learning. It would have forced any school or library that receives E-Rate funding to block access to any web site that "allows users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users and offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, e-mail or instant messenger."
"We now see a bill that asks schools to take their proper role in teaching safe and responsible use of the Internet, rather than trying to block emerging communication and social networking systems with great potential for positively engaging students and improving learning," said Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, as reported by eSchools News Online. "One of a school's primary functions is to ensure safety and build responsible citizens, and trying to block every threatening activity that goes on in society is not a formula for effective education."