US Senate Passes Furby and Barbie Porn Ban

  • Comments: 0
  • Written on: July 21st, 2006

On a voice vote today the United States Senate passed the 163-page revision to the Child Protection and Safety Act. The bill would make it a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison to lure minors to a website using words like “furby” or “barbie” that is intended to deliver pornographic images.

This revised version of the House bill is expected to be signed by the President and enjoys bi-partisan support. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Assign prison time to any webmaster with the intent to deceive minors as to the content of a pornographic website
  • Assign Prison time for the intentional Internet sale or distribution of date rape drugs
  • The computers, or any other electronic communication or data storage devices or media owned by convicted offenders must be made available to police examination without a warrant at any time
  • Force convicted Internet sex offenders to provide a DNA sample
  • Establish an Internet sex offender registry with the FBI
  • Use Internet sex offenders as test subjects for a real-time location tracking system

According to lawmakers the bill was carefully worded to avoid any violations of the First or Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. For example, a webmaster may try to claim it is his first amendment right to put whatever he wants on a webpage as protected speech. However, the bill specifically gives judges and jurors the power to decide what the intent of the webmaster is. Hence, the words are not a crime, but the webmaster’s intent is.

While the bill is expected to arrive on President Bush’s desk next week, I would not expect to see a radical change in the practice of using child-friendly words to lure minors into the dark corners of the Internet. These laws only apply to US citizens and websites housed within the US, and it takes all of 5 minutes to move a website to an overseas server. In addition, the law only applies to gateway pages that lure minors to click on links that lead to pornographic websites. Since there is nothing inherently illegal about a pornographic website, and may even be protected speech under the Constitution, it will not be long before webmasters simply outsource the underhanded baiting techniques to others in Russia, China, Europe, and Australia.

With that said, I can almost hear some of you asking, why pass a bill that will have little impact on the problem? During floor debate Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, “I appreciate the willingness of all members to put aside unrelated controversial issues so that we could focus on the core purpose of this bill–protecting children.” A national politician invoking the protection of children in an election year may seem genuine, but it was no coincidence that the bill was put to a voice vote (requiring each Senator to tie their vote to their name publicly). No politician would want to be against protecting children in an election year.

Nevertheless, incremental progress is better than no progress at all, and I suspect you will not hear too many voices speaking out to defend any perceived “right” for webmasters to abuse children. Good intentions, decent bill, but not a total solution.

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