Does the Net need a 'red-light district'?

A red zone for porn and a green one for kids were among the ideas tossed about at a Child Online Protection Act hearing

Zoning rules and regulations like the ones used to carve up cities could soon be making their way onto the Internet.

The idea, presented Friday to a commission exploring the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), would create a "red-light district" for porn sites and a so-called "green" area for sites appropriate for children.

But instead of drawing lines on a map as cities do, the Internet would rely on domain names like .kids and .xxx, or set aside a block of unused IP addresses that new sites would be assigned according to content.

Bringing zoning rules to the Internet has an eclectic group of supporters, including Stanford University professor Gio Wiederhold, Web porn queen Danni Ashe and US Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

But before it becomes law, it has to pass through a commission that has been conducting COPA hearings. The last hearing took place Friday in San Jose, California, and deliberations began within minutes of the last speaker. COPA commissioner Donald Telage, the former president of Network Solutions, said the zoning idea is on a short list of deliberation topics. But he has a lot of questions and concerns about the idea, despite its broad-based support.

For one, he thinks segregating children's sites would be "packaging children for predators". He also wonders how to create standards to judge the material in the United States and abroad.

"All these things sound easy, until you peel the onion back," he said.

Zoning the Internet would also likely be subjected to legal challenges. But the idea already has an OK from O'Connor.

Stanford professor Wiederhold has proposed creating a red-light district on the Internet, where the 2,000 new porn sites created each day would find themselves located.

"Our precedent indicates that the creation of such zones can be constitutionally sound," she wrote in her review last year of the Communications Decency Act.

One of several zoning ideas comes from William H Clinger, engineering vice president for the Clinger in Pennsylvania. "Why can we not exercise some forethought and common sense in the allocation of Internet addresses?" he asked the commission Friday.

Clinger's idea would be to set aside a small, contiguous block of IP addresses that would be subject to all US laws about content on the Internet.

The "US zone" -- or "green zone," as Clinger calls it -- would help sharpen the detection abilities of filter programs, which he says have a high rate of failure because Web content is scattered through the IP spectrum. It also wouldn't mean a top-down redesign of the entire Net. The Web is expected to expand by 65 times its current size in the next few years. The green zone would occupy about one percent of that new space, Clinger said.

Stanford professor Wiederhold has proposed creating a red-light district on the Internet where the 2,000 new porn sites created each day would find themselves located.

Each of the sites would be taxed with a domain suffix of red.xxx.

"Everything not red would be freely accessible to kids, unless there are additional constraints imposed by parents," he told the commission.

Ashe, meanwhile, who runs the hugely successful porn empire at her Web site Danni's Hot Box, has proposed another domain name of .kid or .kids that would be considered material viewable by children.

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