Legislation (H.R. 2417) that would create a global “safe space” on the Internet for children was the subject of a November 1 hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.
Sponsored by Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Edward Markey (D-MA), the Dot Kids Domain Act of 2001 would create a generic, top-level domain, “.kids,” for children under the age of 13. The subcommittee also discussed a proposed substitute amendment to the bill that would create a secondary domain within the .us country code, “.kids.us.”
Subcommittee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) opened the hearing, saying that the subcommittee wants to build a domain on the Internet for children, “the equivalent of a children’s playground or a children’s library on the Internet.” He explained that a “global, generic, top-level domain cannot be accomplished without the cooperation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).” Unfortunately, “there is no assurance that ICANN would ever implement a ‘.kids’ domain,” he said. “Time is of the essence, and the substitute amendment” would provide a quicker route to a kids domain “through the ‘.us space.’”
Rep. Markey, the subcommittee’s ranking Member, highlighted the need for a “cyberspace sanctuary for kids 13 and under” that would be devoid of content harmful to minors.” He added that the “harmful to minors standard” might be “subject to a court challenge,” and stressed that, under the legislation, the child-friendly domain “would be voluntary.”
Nancy Victory of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration told the subcommittee that, while her agency “supports the development of a .kids.us domain,” there are problems “with this legislation that could ultimately undermine that goal.” She questioned the need for legislation to develop a .kids domain, and she cautioned that “international reaction to U.S. efforts to legislate in the area of domain name management could hamper the United States’ abilities to advance its foreign policy objectives, particularly critical telecommunications and information policy goals.”
Most of the other panelists expressed support for the legislation. Bruce Taylor of the National Law Center for Children and Families testified that, in his opinion, there were no constitutional challenges to a “children’s zone on the Internet.” He said, “A Kids domain makes a kid-safe part of the Internet, rather than attempting to make other parts of the Internet safe for kids.” He continued, “All classes of materials that are unprotected for minors may be restricted from minors on the minors’ domain without restricting any such material for adults,” and added, “therefore, in my opinion, this act is constitutionally valid and enforceable.”
H. Page Howe of .KIDS Domains, Inc. also presented positive testimony regarding the legislation. We believe that “creating .kids space will increase the potential effectiveness of existing filtering and child-safety software tools,” he said.
Donna Rice Hughes of FamilyClick.com testified that there has been a “345 percent increase in child pornography sites between February and July of 2001.” In chat rooms, she highlighted that “1 in 5 children received a sexual solicitation or approach last year, and 1 in 33 received an aggressive sexual solicitation.” She said that prevention must consist of a three-pronged approach, and must be “a shared responsibility between parents, schools and libraries, the technology industry, and law enforcement and public policy.” She expressed strong support for a safe space on the Internet for children that must exclude “violent content, hate speech, gambling sites, revealing attire and sex education,” and added that the establishment of a top-level domain would be “more effective than multiple green spaces.”