Senator plans to revise Web labeling bill

Republican Ted Stevens' bill includes proposals that aroused concern among civil liberties advocates, librarians and technology companies.
Written by Anne Broache, Contributor
WASHINGTON--The U.S. senator behind a controversial proposal requiring labels on racy Web sites and limiting access to social-networking sites appears to be backing away from the idea.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on Tuesday said he is working with his staff and meeting with interested parties to rewrite his bill, introduced earlier this year and called Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act. He did not indicate when it would be complete, and an aide said the rewrite process remains in the early stages.

"I'm pleased to hear about some new developments in the marketplace since that new bill was introduced," Stevens told attendees at the annual meeting here of the Computer & Communications Industry Association. "Several companies like MySpace have revised their policies and announced new initiatives."

Stevens' bill, introduced with little fanfare in the first days of the new congressional session, includes two proposals that aroused concern among civil liberties advocates, librarians and technology companies last year.

One section would require schools and libraries that receive federal subsidies to certify that they are blocking access to social-networking sites "unless used for an educational purpose with adult supervision." Last summer, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved an identical proposal in the form of a bill called the Deleting Online Predators Act.

Another section of Stevens' bill mirrors earlier proposals, first floated by the U.S. Department of Justice, requiring sexually explicit Web sites to be labeled as such. One such proposal was approved last summer by the Senate Commerce Committee, of which Stevens is the Republican ranking member, as an amendment to a massive communications bill that ultimately died.

Details on the revised effort were scant on Tuesday, but Stevens said he believed the final product would fall "within the scope of the Constitution and not violate the First Amendment." He appeared to be referring to critics of previous Web labeling proposals who said they're riddled with the potential for chilling free speech. Under U.S. jurisprudence, all state and federal laws must comply with the First Amendment's strict anticensorship rules.

But the senator suggested he won't be dropping his focus on the issue, no matter what approach his proposed legislation ultimately takes. "The new social environments we open up on the Internet must be such that they will protect our children from predators and from inappropriate content," he said.

Stevens isn't the only one who has offered a bill on that topic this year. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in February reintroduced the Deleting Online Predators Act. And just last week, Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) proposed a new effort that would require special tags, which could be used to facilitate filtering, to be embedded in Web pages that the government deems unsuitable for minors.

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.

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