White House tries to soften Internet filtering law

Friday, October 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House is pressing Congress to soften a law that would require schools and libraries to use filtering software to keep children from seeing objectionable Internet sites. It suggests that such decisions be left to local authorities.

Polls show Americans want children protected from Web smut, however, and Republicans in Congress are leaving little room for change. They note the legislation has bipartisan support.

``Everyone in the House supports this,'' said John Albaugh, chief of staff for Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., one of the measure's sponsors. ``I don't believe that this is an item that anyone's going to move on in the House.''

The legislation is attached to a federal spending bill Congress must pass before adjourning.

The White House is pressing to change the language that mandates filters in public libraries and schools and to let communities choose the best way to protect their children. Vice President Al Gore supports the White House position.

``We would favor requiring schools and libraries to develop their own plans,'' White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said. ``We think it should be left to the community's discretion.''

As an example, Diringer said communities could use either parental volunteers or technology to monitor children's online activity.

White House officials said, however, if the bill arrives on Clinton's desk with the filter requirement unchanged, the president probably would sign it because it includes money for other education priorities.

If signed, the law would require communities to install Internet filtering software in schools and libraries to block out World Wide Web sites with explicit images, hate speech or other objectionable content. If they failed to do so, the institutions would get no federal money for Internet access.

A congressional advisory commission on preventing child pornography also weighed in Friday, declining to endorse or advise against such filters although it expressed some reservations about the technology.

``This technology raises First Amendment concerns because of its potential to be overinclusive in blocking content,'' said the report by the Child Online Protection Act commission. ``Concerns are increased because the extent of blocking is often unclear and not disclosed, and may not be based on parental choices.''

The commission advocated an alternative education campaign to tell parents about online dangers and how to protect their children including by personal use of filters. It also urged more money for law enforcement agencies to prosecute online obscenity and child pornography.

The issue of protecting children from objectionable content has emerged in the campaign.

In Tuesday's final presidential debate, Gov. George W. Bush backed mandatory filtering while Gore said he preferred simpler ways for parents to monitor children's online visits.

A survey released this week from the Digital Media Forum indicated 92 percent of 1,900 Americans believe pornography should be blocked on school computers and 79 percent say hate speech should be filtered.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Friday it would file a legal challenge against the filtering requirement if it passes Congress in its current form.