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House Targets Social Networking Sites

Schools and libraries would be required to block access to social networking sites and chat rooms under legislation approved today by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Approved on a 410-15 vote, the Deleting Online Predators Act aims to curb the use of the Internet by child predators.

The bill calls for any school or library receiving federal funding through the E-rate program to employ "technology protection" measures (i.e. filters) to prohibit minors from accessing social networking sites and chat rooms where they may be subject to "unlawful sexual advances."

The E-rate is a part of the Universal Service Fund designed to provide funds for schools and libraries to acquire Internet connections and supporting equipment and service.

Under the bill, children in schools and libraries would be allowed to access social networking sites or chat rooms if an adult is supervising the online activities.

The legislation also allows schools and libraries to turn off protection measures for adult use.

In addition, the bill also calls for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to create a Web site to serve as a resource about online dangers to children for parents, teachers, school administrators and others.

The emergence of social networking sites such as MySpace, Friendster and Facebook has drawn growing concern that sexual predators are using the sites to contact and solicit minors.

According Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), more than 25 million minors have put personal information on the sites that be can be exploited by sexual predators.

"This is not the end-all bill," Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said. "But, we know sexual predators should not have the avenue of our schools and libraries to pursue their evil deeds."

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) added, "Americans should have the right to send their kids to safe schools and libraries."

Although most Democrats voted for the bill, they complained throughout the floor debate that the legislation would not accomplish much.

"I'm voting for this bill to move the process along because protecting our children from online predators is a serious issue," Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said.

"However, I don't believe it will adequately address these issues. It is overly broad, ambiguous, and the E-rate program was not designed to be the cop on the block."

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) said the bill, "Makes good press releases, but it won't save one single child from one single incident. This will not solve the problem."

Democrats said there is simply no evidence of a correlation between school and library computer use and sexual predators.

The American Library Association also opposes the legislation, noting that school districts and libraries already have the power to block access to social networking sites, and a number of them already have done so.

"Like a lot of my colleagues, I'm going to hold my nose and vote for a bill that does nothing," Rep. John Dingell (R-Mich.) said.

The legislation is the second bill approved in as many days by the House dealing with sexual predators.

Tuesday, lawmakers passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

While the 175-page bill primarily focuses on tougher judicial penalties for sexual predators, two parts of the bill address the Internet.

Under the legislation, new criminal penalties would be imposed for embedding words or images in the source code of a Web site to deceive children into viewing obscene material.

The bill states webmasters would have to show "intent to deceive" before they would be subject to the proposed law.

The legislation would also establish an Internet database for parents to search for sex offender information in their communities.

The Senate has already approved the legislation and President Bush plans to sign the bill into law on Thursday, the 25th anniversary of the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh, the six-year-old son of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children founders John and Revé Walsh.