One of the prime impediments to date to the protection of children
on-line has been the raging debate among advocates of free speech, and advocates
of filters based on uniform standards of decency. These are important and difficult
issues, frought with legal difficulties in some nations. But those debates
should no longer prevent progress. The DotKids, Inc. proposal for the gTLD
provides the technical and software solution by preserving full freedom of expression
while providing the global tools for parents to tailor the Web for their own children.
In this regard it is unique. It passes muster under the U.S. Constitution’s
First Amendment. It provides a stand-up method of promptly and objectively
enforcing the proper assignment of rating categories.
As such, it also
establishes a new proof of concept for future Internet development wherever global
diversity requires that such diverse views be accommodated on the Internet.
Statement further explains the DotKids, Inc. proposal regarding freedom of expression
and judgment about content.
Public comments to date
Numerous public comments
to date justifiably show great concern about “who is to be the judge.”
example, the opinion was expressed that “There’s no way to objectively categorize
what’s suitable for children and what’s not on a global basis,” and concluded that
“Global TLDs need to be inclusive, NOT restrictive.” (Ron1000, .KIDS TLD Application
Should Be Denied — details inside . . . (Oct. 14, 2000).) Numerous early commenters
asked, “Who Is To Judge?”
On the other hand, many voices ask for regulation as
a hallmark of the .kids gTLD. One commenter, for example, opined that “It’s
not about free speech!,” and advocated regulatory controls on registrations for .kid
and .sex. (AdvantaTel, It’s About Our Kids (Oct. 18, 2000).) Another
said, “I don’t understand how any proposal that is not willing to stand up and restrict
content can offer anything new to the internet, let alone kids.” (DRM, Not
revolutionary, just Status Quo (Oct. 24, 2000).)
DotKids, Inc. has made its proposal
with these various views already thoroughly researched and firmly addressed.
Its proposal for a new .kids TLD will lead to the protection of children without
any infringement of free speech. It does so by placing the control in the hand
of the reader (the parent in this case), not censoring the expression by the speaker.
It does this in a dynamic search-engine environment without having to make a closed
list of “suitable” sites or presume to tell children what they should be interested
in. And it uses market forces and natural incentives to attract registrants
to the .kids domain, and to lead them to ask that their content be categorized so
that it reaches the children whose parents are using the .kids options to search
for content according to their individual beliefs.
We have posted
already a separate Statement regarding our Unrestricted TLD, which explains how we
effect the goals stated in the last paragraph. Please read it!
In this paper,
we explain the legal environment that makes our solution unique in preserving freedom
of expression yet effective in being a stand-up, enforceable structure that lights
up green pathways for children on the Internet.
background must consider the concerns internationally. The United States, because
of its First Amendment to the Constitution, has perhaps one of the most carefully
protected rights to freedom of expression. Other nations vary on the continuum
from similar freedoms on one hand to the expectation that the government will regulate
speech on the other. Our proposal is global and inclusive. It accommodates
diverse cultures’ expectations about freedom of expression.
Protection of speech
in the US
Because the US is one of the most stringent, we discuss it first.
the United States, the First Amendment effectively prevents the government from imposing
content-based restrictions on speech. This has led to the invalidation of statutes
that sought to prevent indecent and other harmful material on the Internet from being
seen by children. Even if the government does not do the regulating, many public
interest groups oppose censorship as a method of protecting children on-line.
Their legitimate concerns arise because the Internet is an open, public channel of
communication wherein Website registrants seek to preserve the privilege of unfettered
communication of ideas.
It is useful to understand the scope of the First Amendment
in the US. The Supreme Court made clear in Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997),
that the Internet enjoys full First Amendment protection in the US. As such, any
content-based governmental regulations on Internet speech would have be “narrowly
tailored to promote a compelling government interest.”
Without addressing whether
regulation on Internet speech is possible in a content-neutral manner (for which
there would be a different, easier-to-meet test for constitutionality), we address
the tougher “compelling governmental interest” test here because we believe our proposal
satisfies that standard.
Protecting children from harmful material is one of
those interests that the US courts have found compelling. (See ACLU v. Reno,
at 19 (3rd Cir. 2000), where the court wrote: “It is undisputed that the government
has a compelling interest in protecting children from material that is harmful to
them, even if not obscene by adult standards.”) In fact, the Supreme Court has upheld
regulations in other contexts that prevent the sale of indecent material to children
(Ginsberg v. New York, 309 U.S. 629 (1968)), and that restrict the airwaves broadcast
of expletives to hours when children are less likely to tune in (FCC v. Pacifica
Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978)).
Yet regulations that protect children
cannot sweep too broadly. The Supreme Court wrote: “Regardless of the
strength of the government’s interest in protecting children, the level of discourse
reaching a mailbox simply cannot be limited to that which would be suitable for a
sandbox.” (Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844, 875 (1997).)
A focal point of the
legal analysis for children has been the parent’s authority in the home. In
the Ginsberg case, the Court upheld a regulation which prohibited the sale of materials
to minors which were obscene as to them, whether or not they were obscene to adults.
The Court pointed out that “constitutional interpretation has consistently recognized
that the parents’ claim to authority in their own household to direct the rearing
of their children is basic in the structure of society.” (Ginsberg, 390 U.S.
More recently, when the Court examined regulations of Internet content,
it again addressed the parents’ control. This time, however, it struck down
the Communications Decency Act’s ban on transmission of indecent material to minors
over the Internet. (Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997).) The government-imposed
ban was overturned as unconstitutional because the regulation burdened adults’ speech
more than was permissible. At the same time, the Court recognized again that
children do need protection, but stated that those decisions should be made by the
parents, not the government. (Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. at 877.)
In its most
recent First Amendment case, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not
effectively force cable broadcasters of adult material to broadcast only during certain
times. The challenged regulation was found, again, not to be narrowly tailored,
since targeted blocking of the offensive broadcasts, requested by parents and others
who objected to the content being broadcast into their homes, would be an effective
alternative. (United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc.).
of Expression In Other Countries
Because the DotKids, Inc. proposal centers on
a value-added structure for decency on the Internet, not on content judgments, this
proposal in satisifying freedom of expression concerns in the US is certainly adequate
to satisfy alternative cultural standards of speech in other nations. See below.
the DotKids, Inc. Proposal Means to Various Interest Groups
Taking the above discussion
of the strict US standards into account, the DotKids, Inc. proposal resolves the
protection issues with effective search technology, placing the regulation of Internet
expression read by children in the hands of parents. Thus, is speaks to the
US legal standards under the First Amendment, as applicable, by (1) placing the control
in the parents’ hands in the home, which the Supreme Court recognized as a compelling
interest, and (2) doing so with a narrowly tailored, open and market-oriented structure
that empowers groups having different viewpoints to develop systems for categorizing
content when viewed by children. As a quick summmary:
ISPs will be provided
software that contains the browser technology to give parents choice. Using
passwords unknown to their children, they can protect each child by directing him
or her onto .kids, and further within .kids to content that bears proper category
labels that match the rating system(s) chosen by the parent. Thus, a parent
may see a choice among multiple rating systems (e.g., ICRA, hypothetical library
recommendations, hypothetical religious or national recommendations). The parent
sends his choice for each child (a different choice for each child!) to our central
file. Until that choice is changed by the parent, the child surfs safely among
all sites that are categorized to clear the parent’s choice. The parent chooses
from an ever-growing selection of rating systems that have been attracted to the
market by the dynamic nature of this new gTLD. The parent chooses, within each
rating system he selects, the categories of content that his child may/may not see.
The parent chooses when to change these selections as the child grows and matures.
The parent chooses whether big brother can see more than little sister.
basic understanding, here is what the DotKids, Inc. proposal means for different
interest groups. These are only examples, for illustration:
in full freedom of expression
Groups interested in broad access and minimal protection
can develop rating systems and solicit support and recognition in local or global
markets. Civil libertarians can use their judgment in recommending a rating
system that exemplifies their attitudes and beliefs about who should access what
kinds of expression.
Groups interested in strongly protecting certain values
Others, such as conservative religious organizations, child advocacy
groups, and others can do the same using their contrasting judgments.
interested in appropriate Internet use for children of their own nations
in most of the world (i.e., outside the United States!) who work for children on-line
have as full and complete a voice under this system as any group in the US.
The system is global in structure, and cannot be dominated by US standards so long
as groups outside the US pursue their interest in providing rating systems appropriate
to their nation’s children.
As such diverse rating systems are established to
be objective, open, precise, complete and capable of consistent application, they
become eligible for inclusion in the DotKids, Inc. browser. No judgments about
content are made by the Registry at all — the judgment criteria are set according
to the rating organization’s system, which responds to market demand. In short,
all participate in handing parents the tools of choice because DotKids, Inc. has
created the value of this new structure within the Internet.
Parents who want
their children to research widely for school
Individuals who, knowing their children
best, want to enable wide surfing for the purpose of research into, say, art history
or human sexuality, can elect to use the more “liberal” search screens.
who want their children to reinforce certain standards of decency
who wish to control their children’s access more tightly will be able to do so in
response to the interest groups who have created rating systems the parent finds
Parents outside the US.
Parents have visibility of the diversity
of the global rating systems presented on their browsers, and can take full advantage
consistent with their personal and cultural values.
groups, and companies who register .kids domain will be incentivized by market forces
to make access to their domains clear so that children can find them on the “green
pathways” set by their parents. Thus, website holders, including public interest
groups, children’s specialty pages, and even generic commercial sites, as well as
educational sites, will have their sites categorized under as many rating systems
as they may choose.
A careful reading of our Proposal (available in its
entirety at www.aboutdotkids.com) discusses many of the details. Please visit
the site, and please provide your comments. DotKids, Inc., working in the interest
of children and global policy, welcomes your continued interest.