White House slammed over Net porn bill

US lawmakers backing a controversial measure to limit online pornography on Wednesday blasted the White House for opposing their proposal. "The White House is fighting our efforts in Congress to protect children from Internet porn," said Rep.

US lawmakers backing a controversial measure to limit online pornography on Wednesday blasted the White House for opposing their proposal. "The White House is fighting our efforts in Congress to protect children from Internet porn," said Rep. Mike Oxley, Republican from Ohio and author of one of the proposals.

Oxley's bill, which passed the House of Representatives last week on a voice vote, would require commercial sites on the World Wide Web to block access by children to material deemed "harmful to minors" or face criminal penalties.

Oxley said the White House was seeking to delay the effective date of the bill, eliminate criminal penalties and carve out an exception for diversified media companies that are not primarily selling pornography.

"He's misrepresenting the administration's position," said Jake Siewert, a spokesman for the National Economic Council. Administration officials were not trying to kill the bill, but "to give them some advice on how we can best accomplish our shared goals in a way that will pass constitutional muster," he said.

In a letter to Congress obtained by Reuters last week, the Justice Department said Oxley's bill would probably violate the First Amendment's free speech clause and would divert resources from more important law enforcement matters.

Companies, including America Online and the Walt Disney Co., have argued that the proposal is too broad and would subject them to conflicting interpretations from around the country. Civil libertarians also oppose the bills, saying the proposals would chill freedom of expression.

Oxley said the White House suggestions "are meant to weaken the bill and ultimately kill it." Because the Senate passed a slightly different version and attached the measure to a spending bill, lawmakers are scrambling to find a procedural opening to have both bodies approve an identical bill. Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Friday.

Oxley and Senator Dan Coats, Republican of Indiana and author of the Senate bill, have pushed to add a version of their proposal to the massive $500 billion-plus spending measure Congress plans to vote on by the end of the week. The White House has objected to many Republican initiatives in the proposed mega-spending bill, including the Internet porn bill. Efforts by Coats and Oxley followed the Supreme Court's decision last year to throw out Congress's first anti-Internet porn law, the Communications Decency Act, as a violation of freedom of speech rights.

The new proposals take a narrower approach, applying only commercial Web sites instead of the entire Internet and using the "harmful to minors" standard instead of a broader obscenity standard. Under the harmful to minors standard, access to material with redeeming social, political or artistic value would not restricted.