Federal lawmakers are hoping to create a child-friendly haven on the Web. In the process, they're generating bruised feelings about American unilateralism.
A bipartisan measure, sponsored by Reps. John Shimkus, R-Ill., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., would set up a new Internet "domain" that would serve as a reliable source of material appropriate for young Web-surfers.
Originally, the legislation would have created a ".kids" domain, on an equal footing with primary domains, such as the ubiquitous ".com." But some feared that would violate international agreements that give the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, based in Marina del Rey, Calif., the lead role in creating worldwide domains.
So this month, the legislators came up with a plan to set up a secondary domain appending the ".us" domain. Such sites would end with ".kids.us."
Rep. Billy Tauzin,R-La., the House technology subcommittee chairman, said the change would help parents easily find educational and other suitable Web sites for children.
"Although there are enormous benefits that flow from the Internet, parents' and children's advocates have long complained that it offers a wide window to material that is inappropriate, even harmful, for children," he said this month at a hearing on the legislation. "The '.us' space provides us with a guarantee that a safe space for children will be created."
One federal official noted, though, that many Web sites already provide directions to child-friendly sites, and that tools such as filtering devices help keep youngsters away from adults-only material.
"While I support the legislation, the mechanisms contemplated in both versions raise substantial policy and legal concerns," said Nancy J. Victory, who heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. "Our international allies have a strongly held aversion to the United States' efforts to assert its national will on the Internet, a global resource."
—Joetta L. Sack firstname.lastname@example.org
Vol. 21, Issue 13, Page 22