CDA all over again as US passes 'enforced safety' in schools

An American subcommittee has approved a bill that removes subsidies from any schools which do not install 'parental guidance' software. Libertarian groups are furious at the proposals.

The education subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee proposed the 'Child Protection Act of 1998' goes further than the hotly debated law proposed by senator John McCain, which would make filter use a condition for schools and libraries to obtain federal Internet-access discounts. Istook's law requires the filtering of Internet content that is "inappropriate for minors" or "obscene".

The measure, part of Congress' $81.9 billion spending bill for fiscal 1999, was approved late Wednesday by the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittee, and now goes up for a vote by the full Appropriations Committee.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center were among those to slam the proposal as a replay of the ill-fated Communications Decency Act, which sought to outlaw the transmission of 'indecent' online materials to minors and was ultimately shot down by the Supreme Court.

"No one is suggesting that children should have access to obscene material," said Ron Weich, a legislative consultant at the ACLU's Washington office, in a statement on the measure. "But the Istook amendment ignores the hard fact that it is technically and humanly impossible to block access only to obscene material."

"For Congress to adopt the Istook amendment would be like ordering every newsstand in the country to be wrapped entirely in a brown paper bag to protect any child from seeing any potentially obscene materials," Weich said.

"We believe that local educators, parents and librarians, not Congress, should be the ones making decisions about what students can see on the Internet," said Barry Steinhardt, president of the EFF, in a statement on the bill.