We Can Make the Internet Child-Safe Without Trampling Civil Liberties

To protect children from the unsavory parts of the Internet, we need vigilant parents, rather than the Supreme Court.

At ages 5 and a half and almost 8, my children are already computer geeks in training. The younger one is a whiz at online games. He can download and install them and change desktop settings, while the older one types in URLs he finds on TV and on cereal boxes. Am I worried about them being exposed to Internet porn or other nefarious material? Absolutely. Am I worried that the latest attempt to criminalize such material was recently blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court? Absolutely not.

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Im actually more concerned about exposure to violence on TV or video games than I am about porn popping up on their computer screen. Certainly, in the battle of free speech versus cleaning up the Internet, there are no easy answers, at least in the sense that they can be applied fairly and uniformly. But there are a lot of solutions that work more effectively and are less insidiously destructive to civil liberties than anti-porn legislation.

For instance, I use a filter program that I monitor and update regularly. I participate with my children and watch where they go and explain why they cant buy something on the Internet or register for something with their name and address. They are not allowed to use e-mail or instant messaging unless they want to use the parental accounts while being monitored. Some parents I know also use the honor system. No filters are installed, but if the children are caught, they lose their privileges. Is all this too much work for parents? If so, then it may be time for parents to take away Internet access from the kids. As one reader of The New York Times put it, letting children use the Internet unsupervised is akin to dropping them off on a street corner in a strange city.

Next page: COPA in the crossfire.

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...