The Child Online Protection Act (COPA), signed by President Clinton eight years ago, has yet to be enforced. Kids have grown up waiting to be “protected” by it. The law requires that Website operators, through such means as requiring credit card numbers and other techniques for proof of age, must ensure that material “harmful to children,” is not accessed by them. Sizeable penalties apply.
Free speech advocates (Salon, the ACLU) have continued their arguments–in a trial in federal court starting today–that the law is too vague and could prevent the accessing of legitimate material by adults. The Supreme Court has twice upheld injunctions barring enforcement.
It’s become tiresome to reiterate the ways in which kids will work around such “protections” by “borrowing” a parent’s credit card, going to a friend’s house, looking over a sibling’s shoulder, and such. Kids themselves excel at creating a fair amount of material unsuitable for Sunday School, as any glance at YouTube or MySpace can confirm. Since I prefer my kids not to see much of this stuff, I have to look over their shoulders when they’re online. We can’t always get the upper hand technologically as parents, but we can watch them.
And we have to watch: Particularly annoying is the fact that COPA wouldn’t protect kids even if it were fully enforced. “The Web” is not “The Internet.” Kids need not go on websites to access porn; they can download it at will from peer-to-peer services that aren’t affected by this legislation, or by sharing files with friends via instant messaging or chats. Paralleling the accompanying Ritalin “ad” parody, leaving parental supervision out of the equation, substituting government rules, can’t work. We already know we can survive by our own wits–we’ve been doing just fine for the past eight years without COPA.