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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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January232007

The Birth of DOPA Jr.

It didn’t take long for the latest generation of the DOPA legislation to rear its head on Capitol Hill. But will the bill go anywhere this time around?

At the start of the new congressional session this month, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced a bill known as S. 49. The bill doesn’t have an official title yet, but already some people are referring to it as DOPA Jr., because it’s a rehash of last year’s Deleting Online Predators Act. DOPA would have required all schools and libraries that receive federal Internet subsidies to block access to interactive websites, including social networks and blogs. (For those of you who are new to DOPA, I’d suggest reviewing the blog’s policy archive as I’ve written about the subject an aburd number of times.) DOPA passed overwhelmingly in the House after it was introduced by Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA). After that, the bill went nowhere, stagnating in the Senate until the congressional session expired, the Democrats took over Congress and Rep. Fitzpatrick lost his re-election campaign.

Various edtech prognosticators - including me - predicted that DOPA’s slow, painful death made it likely it wouldn’t find much success in the new Congress. While it’s still too early to tell if this is true or not, one thing is for sure - DOPA’s supporters aren’t ready to give up without a fight. This time, though, first blood has been drawn on the Senate side, with Sen. Stevens re-introducing DOPA in the form of S. 49. The draft of the bill was read into the Congressional Record, but the public can’t access the text just yet. No, there’s nothing nefarious going here - settle down, conspiracy buffs. It’s just that the bill was introduced at the opening of the latest congressional session, when lots of senators and representatives introduce their pet legislation. This creates a bottleneck for the Government Printing Office, so the usual turnaround time of a few days gets stretched out. Granted, I don’t see why they can’t post the electronic version immediately, but it probably has to do with some arcane rule saying that electronic versions can’t come out until the paper versions are ready.

Anyway, until the text of the bill is published, we’re left to rely on media reports about DOPA, and so far, the sources are slim pickins apart from this nugget from ZDNet:

Last summer, over the objections of civil libertarians, librarians and educators, the House overwhelmingly approved the Deleting Online Predators Act, which would restrict ambiguously defined social-networking sites in schools and libraries that receive federal funding. The proposal ultimately died last year, but on the first day of the 110th Congress, Sen. Ted Stevens, a veteran Alaska Republican, reintroduced identical language in what he portrayed as a renewed effort to protect children online.

Stevens didn’t stop there, packaging his reincarnation of DOPA with another failed proposal that would require all sexually explicit sites to be labeled as such, according to a copy of the bill obtained by CNET News.com. Although it has encountered opposition from civil libertarians, the idea gained bipartisan support within Congress, passing unanimously as an amendment to a massive communications bill that ultimately died.

Backed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the bill would slap prison time on commercial Web site operators who fail to embed “marks or notices” on each page of their site that contains material deemed to be sexually explicit.

I’m waiting with baited breath for Congress to make the text of the bill available online so I can pick my way through it and get the skinny on what Stevens has in mind. Maybe it’ll be later today or later this month; it all depends on how long it takes for them to work through all the bills submitted at the start of the session. One way to track the bill will be to monitor the amazing legislative website govtrack.us. They even let you track the bill with rss feeds, which is pretty cool in my book.

Meanwhile, this gives us plenty of time to sit back and ask whether this bill is going to go anywhere. For now, I’m still filing this one under “probably not,” since neither DOPA nor Sen. Stevens’ anti-porn legislation from last year made it anywhere in the Senate. The bill has been introduced to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Granted, Stevens is the ranking member of the committee, but he’s not in charge - Democrat Sen. Daniel Inouye is. The committee also includes tech-savvy Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), among others, so any Internet-related legislation on the committee would have to get by them as well.

Complicating matters, though, is the presence of both Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and John Kerry (D-MA), both of whom are considering runs for the presidency in 2008. Even though there’s wide disdain for DOPA among education technology leaders, DOPA-like legislation tends to make good sound bites, particularly when one is professing his anti-online predator street cred.

So will DOPA Jr. go anywhere? I’m still guessing probably not. But that doesn’t mean this is the last we’ve heard of it either. Far from it. -andy

Filed under : Policy, Safety

Responses

The blocking aspects of Dopa have been well discussed.

Labeling web sites with sexual content is laughable. What a unique idea. Would that be done on the home page where only a visually impaired person would “hear” it read while anyone else might read it after viewing a dozen or so nudes?

Maybe it would be in the meta data, but then again every sexually oriented site already has key words and descriptions embedded in the html that might serve as resources for someone wanting to write a pornography thesauras.

Then what about the sites that orginate overseas?

Yeah, labelling is a great idea…. (sigh)

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