Opening Statement of Chairman Ted Stevens
Hearing on Protecting Children on the Internet
January 19, 2006
We are finding that the Internet is increasingly a place where Americans turn to get information, do research, and exchange ideas. And increasingly our children are looking to the Internet for information.
Given the increasingly important role of the Internet in education and commerce, it differs from other media like TV and cable in that parents cannot just foreclose the Internet from their children altogether and expect them to do their homework and be prepared to succeed in life.
But even more so than TV and cable, the internet contains material inappropriate for children.
As the Internet continues to evolve and new offerings like peer-to-peer evolve, we must determine what we can do to protect children as they pursue the use of computers and the Internet for their education.
Particularly as different domains, which are similar to zones, develop we must ask if we are doing enough to create safe kid zones, similar to “family tiers.”
We will work within the confines of the First Amendment, but we must do what we can to shield children from inappropriate and pornographic content, no matter where it comes from.
We need to understand whether the filtering technologies available to parents are effective. We also want to examine the children’s online protection act which is now under court review. Even today, the administration has announced efforts to uphold that law.
Chairman Stevens Q&A with Witnesses
Chairman Stevens: Mr. Burras, do you need anymore tools legislatively or financially to carry out the work that we want you to do to protect children on the Internet?
Mr. Burrus: No, sir. I think we’re doing as best we can. We always enjoy additional resources and with that we could expand our mission, but we have a variety of priorities within the Department of Justice, within the FBI, and we are able to work within those and within the President’s budget.
Chairman Stevens: Have you been personally involved in any of these cases?
Mr. Burrus: Yes, sir.
Chairman Stevens: Have you found that the laws that are currently on the books now, give you enough authority to really pursue any use of pornography directed toward children or the sexual abuse of children?
Mr. Burrus: The laws that we found so far, especially as it relates to the possession, distribution, manufacturing of child pornography, as a law enforcement officer, we’d always like to see stronger penalties, but, obviously, we are able to work with the laws that we have are well-defined. And, we’ve been wildely successful in both our investigations and our prosecutions.
Chairman Stevens: Ms. Parsky, how about your part of the Department? I’m a former U.S. Attorney. I don’t know how many others are around here. But, do you believe the U.S. Attorney’s offices are equipped to handle the prosecutions you mentioned?
Ms. Parsky: I think the U.S. Attorney’s offices have risen to the occasion. As has been recognized by all of the Senators here today, this is an immense problem and it’s been growing incredibly quickly. The one thing I would point out is that the Administration did submit several legislative proposals to the Hill and most of them are currently included in H.R. 3132, which passed the House in September of last year. Some of the provisions that we had put forward would assist us in prosecuting child pornography, child exploitation and obscenity crimes. Some of those provisions are strengthening the Congressional findings that establish the nexus between child pornography and interstate commerce, strengthening the record-keeping provisions of 18 U.S.C. section 2257 to make clear that they type of content that is covered mirrors that of the child pornography statutes and making clear that the producers who are covered by the statute include not only those who are directly involved in the filming or production of child pornography, but also those who publish it, and also strengthening the enforceability of that statute. In addition, our proposals included some forfeiture provisions and to criminalize the production with the intent to distribute or sell obscenity.
Chairman Stevens: Are those Judiciary Committee bills you’re talking about?
Ms. Parsky: I believe so.
Chairman Stevens: Well, thank you very much.
Chairman Stevens: Well, thank you very much Mr. Cambria. The balance of the programming industry has the burden of doing the ratings. Why don’t you just rate them yourselves?
Mr. Cambria: I think that what we lack is a structure. We lack a dialogue with authorities, with either Congress or with law.
Chairman Stevens: No, no, no, not Congress. I’m talking about when you offer a program, it ought to be rated as adult only and marked so that it cannot be misunderstood.
Mr. Cambria: And, I don’t think that any adult producer would disagree with that.
Chairman Stevens: You don’t do it now.
Mr. Cambria: I agree that what we need is organization and we need a belief that it will be meshed with, for example, filtering.
Chairman Stevens: Well, my advice would be to you tell your clients they better do it soon, because we’ll mandate it if you don’t.
Mr. Cambria: I take that advice seriously and I appreciate it.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you. Now, Ms. Platt, we’ve had questions about filtering software now, could you tell us, do you market filtering software with your AOL presentations?
Ms. Platt: Yes, we do. And, actually some of our advertising even on TV over the years has talked about the AOL parental controls.
Chairman Stevens: And, we’ve just been through, we have people down there looking at that thing now, about the v-chip. Do you go through the process of educating people on how to use the filtering process?
Ms. Platt: We employ kind of a different tiered approach to educating our customers about parental controls. We do it, kind of, through spreading information in marketing materials, putting information online, but, more importantly, we chose to put the information in parents hands right as they are creating accounts for their children. On AOL you can have up to seven screen names that use the account, get email and different things like that. The first account is the adult, parent account that is opened up with a credit card. From there, the parent can create usernames for other members of the household, including maybe a spouse, not necessarily all children. But, when the master holder of the account goes to create a secondary account of any kind on AOL, they are asked right off the bat, “Is that user going to be a child? Are they going to be under the age of 13?” Or, if not under the age of 13, they are given the choice to pick different categories, 13-15 year-old, 16-17 year-old, or else 18 and over. And, so, right at the outset, trying to educate parents, that they need to have controls in place, we push them through a process where they can’t even avoid communicating about whether the user is going to be a child. Once the account gets set up, the parent presumably will have chosen parental controls for their child. There are various emails that we send out. I mentioned in my oral testimony and also my written testimony, the AOL Guardian Report that we provide to parents where they actually can sign up to get a list of the websites their child has been to and also who their child has sent emails to or received emails from as well as instant messages. So, there is ongoing communication with the parent about what the parental controls mean. Say a parent chooses to set up the account, but at the time it’s not meant for the child, and so they set it up as an adult account and then they realize they are letting their child use it, we make information available throughout the service, in our safety areas. We actually have a keyword – parental controls. We put different promotions from time to time in our programming areas to talk about parents and children online and safety. So, we employ are variety of different kind of push mechanisms to get information out there.
Chairman Stevens: Well, that’s all nice. I wonder, you weren’t here this morning when we heard about the new initiative of the people involved in satellite, cable, and broadband and now broadcasting too, to have an initiative through the Advertising Council to bring a common education program to families on how to use the devises and the techniques that are there now to block or to, in effect, filter out with a v-chip programming that parents may not want their children to see. Is AOL involved in any Internet provider, supplier, I don’t know what the generic term would be, to get everyone involved to see if we can have a common education program like the television media and the radio media are trying to do.
Ms. Platt: Well, you’re correct. I was not here earlier today for that. As indicated in my written testimony, AOL engages in a variety of different efforts where we partner with other companies in the business to launch education campaigns, I mentioned Safety Clicks and America Links Up and there are a few others that are mentioned, where we’re going out there to spread the word, leveraging the resources of not only AOL, but other players in the industry to get information out there into the hands of parents and also information directly to children about safety tips they can follow about being safe online. There is a difference though, you know, in terms of the different filtering that different companies provide and how it works and things like that. One of the approaches AOL has taken from the beginning recognizing that a lot of parents don’t really understand what this technology is all about and they’re completely confused by what their kids seem to know so much more than they do, is to create these kind of default settings for parents so that it’s not too confusing. So, you as a parent can tell us the age of your child and we will tell you what the normal setting would be, what would be the normal appropriate content for that child’s age. We then also allow parents to customize the parental controls. Say they’re really confident about their technical ability or they want to give a little bit more room to their child, after the child’s been online for a year or so and they’ve spent some time with them seeing that the child is acting mature online, then they can go in and fine tune, change the Internet settings, change the Instant Messaging settings or what the case might be. But, really understanding that we pull together, as a company, AOL does, resources that we have to understand that there’s content out there on the web. We can use our own internal technology to rate websites out there to determine what is appropriate and what is not appropriate, creating a sort of white list approach, saying the kids environment. We will ensure that kids are not going to be able to get to websites that have inappropriate content and so that there isn’t a sense that the child is on the parental controls and they start complaining to the parent, “Well, why am I on this restrictive control?” because parents are often succumb to the pressures of their child and say take off the parental controls. We also provide additional content that we create specifically for the children. We have an award winning kids channel called KOL which provides really engaging age-appropriate content.
Chairman Stevens: That’s all well and good, but, you know, in my State, I just got the figure the other day that, 90 percent of our children in the sixth grade are totally computer literate. Their parents aren’t. Now, we are looking at these other entities that we talked to this morning, and organizations, but with a family where the husband and wife both work out of the house, you’ve got three kids coming back between two and four in the afternoon and the parents are coming home around six, you know, it seems to me that the industry itself, that is marketing all this computer stuff, has a burden it has not shouldered yet and that is to find a way so that those parents who really don’t understand it that well can assure that their children are not getting into this pornography while they’re not there. Do you agree with that?
Ms. Platt: I do and I welcome the opportunity to increase awareness. And, I think that not only industry players need to come together, but we need to work with public and private partnerships, but let me say one piece of…
Chairman Stevens: I’ve run over my time. I’m a Chairman that usually uses the gavel on other people. I’ve got to do it (to) myself. Senator Inouye. Sorry about that, he may ask you the same question I was.
Co-Chairman Inouye: Please continue.
Ms. Platt: Thank you. What I wanted to say is that contrary to some research actually that I think Tim quoted from Pew, there was a study conducted late last year, the AOL-NCSA Study, that found that only eight percent of parents using the Internet as a rule, not AOL users, are actually using filters on their computers and these are households with kids in the household. Now, on AOL the percentage is significantly higher, but, that to me, points to a problem, that I called it earlier the laziness of parents, or perhaps the overwhelmed nature that parents have in dealing with these computers issues, where we have to make it easy for them, but we have to also reinforce to them that they do need to consider it part of their parental duty.
Daniel K. InouyeSenator
For years, this Committee has wrestled with the issue of pornography and the means to protect children from it. In many ways, technology has made an already difficult task, even more difficult.
The growth of the Internet as a communications medium allows salacious material to be distributed far more easily to children, and it provides those who would use the Internet to prey upon children an anonymity often used to evade detection. In light of these harms, I think it is entirely appropriate that we review what steps can be taken to assist parents in protecting their children from inappropriate material.
Internet sites containing pornography have grown from 14 million in 1998 to 260 million in 2003. The number of child pornography web sites is estimated to be 100,000 today, and that number is increasing. While the debate between protecting children from Internet pornography and maintaining First Amendment rights continues in our courts, the business of Internet pornography continues to boom.
Despite efforts to protect children from explicit content, an estimated 90 percent of kids between the ages of eight and sixteen have viewed pornography online. As a result, it is time for us to re-evaluate the tools and technologies available to parents in the marketplace, and to ensure that law enforcement has what it needs to bring to justice those who prey upon children.
Witness Panel 1
U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)
Witness Panel 2
Mr. James H. Burrus Jr.Deputy Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigation DivisionFederal Bureau of Investigation
Ms. Laura ParskyDeputy Assistant Attorney GeneralU.S. Department of Justice
Witness Panel 3
Dr. James B. Weaver IIIProfessor of Communication and PsychologyDepartment of Communication, Virginia Tech
Mr. Tim LordanExecutive DirectorInternet Education Foundation
Ms. Tatiana S. PlattChief Trust Officer and Senior Vice PresidentAmerica Online, Inc.
Mr. Paul CambriaGeneral CounselAdult Freedom Foundation