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Username: DKI
Date/Time: Sun, November 5, 2000 at 10:37 PM GMT
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Subject: DotKids, Inc. Statement on Freedom of Expression, Filters, and Censorship



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.

This 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.” 

For 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.

Legal Background

The legal 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.

In 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. at 639.)

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.).

Freedom 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.

What 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.

With this basic understanding, here is what the DotKids, Inc. proposal means for different interest groups.  These are only examples, for illustration:

Groups interested 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 and morals

Others, such as conservative religious organizations, child advocacy groups, and others can do the same using their contrasting judgments. 

Groups interested in appropriate Internet use for children of their own nations

Advocates 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.

Parents who want their children to reinforce certain standards of decency

Individuals 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 appropriate.

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.

Website registrants.

Individuals, 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 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.

Thank you.


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