Protecting Kids Online: Why Legislation Fails

By Michael Miller  |  Posted 2004-07-01 Print this article Print

Neither software nor legislation is ever a substitute for an involved parent.

The Supreme Courts ruling this week that rejected the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) is the right decision. Of course, we should protect our children from filth on the Internet, but COPA raises a lot of First Amendment issues and could prevent people from reaching legitimate sites. But the biggest reason why COPA should be stopped is simple: It cant possibly work. Technology remains our best chance of blocking inappropriate Web sites and fighting spam.

It seems like the only reason Congress passes laws like COPA is so our senators and representatives can pretend they are doing something to combat Internet pornography. Doing so looks good to their constituents. But Congress had to know even before COPA was approved that it would end up in the courts for years and wouldnt solve the problem. (The law was enacted in 1998, but has never been enforced because of challenges to its constitutionality.)

COPA provides for criminal penalties of up to $50,000 per day for Internet sites that make pornography available to those younger than 17. The Supreme Court ruling sends the case back to the federal district court, with instructions that the government must show why such penalties would be more appropriate than the voluntary use of filtering software. Essentially, the Court said the government must show that criminal penalties were the "least restrictive alternative" to accomplish the goal.

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Michael J. Miller is Executive Vice President and Editorial Director of Ziff Davis Media Inc., where he takes an active role in corporate editorial issues, helps identify new editorial needs in the marketplace and shapes the editorial process of every Ziff Davis Media publication.

He joined the company in 1991 as Editor-in-Chief of PC Magazine. Under Miller's supervision, PC Magazine has grown to have the largest readership of any technology publication in the world, at 5.9 million readers. He oversaw the redesign of PC Magazine, the launch of and an expansion of PC Magazine Labs, the largest computer testing lab run by any publication.

Prior to joining PC Magazine, Miller was editor-in-chief of InfoWorld, which he joined as executive editor in 1985. Previously, he was the West Coast Bureau Chief for Popular Computing, and Senior Editor for Building Design & Construction.

An experienced public speaker and veteran technology journalist, Miller has become the 'spokesperson' for the technology industry. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including being named to Medill's Alumni Hall of Achievement. In 2002, Mr. Miller was named the number one consumer/computer journalist by Technology Marketing magazine.

Mr. Miller holds a Master of Science degree in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.


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