House Commerce Committee Passes Child Online Protection Act

(September 25, 1998)  The House Commerce Committee adopted  HR 3783, the "Child Online Protection Act," by a unanimous voice vote yesterday.

See, Summary of Child Online Protection Act (HR 3783) and Coats Bill (S 1482).

Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH) is the lead sponsor of the bill.  The list of cosponsors has grown rapidly to 61 (including 21 members of the House Commerce Committee).  Other Representatives who have been active in the drafting and debate include Rick White (R-WA), James Greenwood (R-PA), Chris Cox (R-CA), and Ed Markey (D-MA).

Rep. Oxley described the bill at the meeting as follows:

"This bill, which is based on a measure sponsored by Senator Dan Coats ... requires the operators of  commercial adult websites to take steps to screen out minors.  It employs a constitutionally tested 'harmful to minors' standard, defining it to mirror current law for the print media.  Mr. Chairman, common sense, and forty years of research in the field of child development clearly demonstrate the exposure to sexually explicit images causes significant harm to the psychological development of children."

Reps. White, Greenwood, Cox, Tauzin, and Rush all spoke in favor of the bill.  No member of the Committee, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, either spoke in opposition to the bill, or voted against it.

There has been debate, at this markup session, at the subcommittee markup session last week, and in private meetings, but it has been on issues other than whether to ban material the is harmful to minors from being distributed to minors.

For example, last week Rep. Cox opposed any language in the bill that would give enforcement powers to the Federal Communications Commission.   His amendment lost on a voice vote. However, in the version offered at the full Committee markup yesterday by Rep. Oxley, the FCC references were removed.

Related Story: Rush Backs CDA II and Condemns Release of Starr Report, 9/25/98.

Also, Rep.Bobby Rush (D-IL) spoke in favor of the the bill, but condemned those Members of Congress who supported the release of the Starr Report.  He stated:

"Let us send a clear message to America's children that pornography, from whatever source, be it from the Congress, or be it from those who propagate, and those who profit from this filth, is wrong and should not be on the Internet."

Rep. Markey raised a number of concerns about the bill.  He also offered an amendment to Section 230(c)(1) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  However, he withdrew it when Reps. Oxley, White, Tauzin, and Bliley agreed to work with Markey in drafting a amendment to the bill that would address Markey's concerns.

However, opposition to the bill exists outside of the Congress.  Liberal interest groups widely condemned the bill, and the Congressman who voted for it.

Carole Shields, President of People for the American Way, stated that, "This bill is unconstitutional because it would have a chilling effect on what information adults post." She continued that "The First Amendment both guarantees Americans the right to speak freely and prevents the government from making certain ideas off limits."  And, she condemned the Committee members.  "They're looking for a cheap 'values vote' that the Religious Right can insert into their voter guides in another effort to mislead the voters and subvert the First Amendment."

Ronald Weich, a legislative consultant on cyber liberties issues for the ACLU's Washington National Office, stated that "Lawmakers continue to ignore the technological realities and constitutional problems with these bills. Congress continues to treat the topic of Internet censorship as a free political ride."

"CDA II is a Trojan horse," said Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) President Barry Steinhardt. "At first glance, it appears relatively benign with its sponsor's claim that it only applies to commercial pornographers who market their sites to minors, but when you look beneath that veneer, you quickly discover that it applies to any Web site that has a commercial component and material that some community could consider 'harmful to minors.'"

Related Stories

Hearing on Internet Indecency, 2/10/98.
Blocking Bills Introduced in Congress, 2/12/98.
Internet Bills Approved by Committee, 3/12/98.
Gore on Safe Schools Internet Act, 3/24/98.
Istook Bill Requires Net Filters, 7/2/98.
Filtering Bill Passes Senate Committee, 7/22/98.
Senate Passes 'CDA II' and 'Safe Schools Internet Act', 7/26/98.
House Holds Hearing on Internet Indecency, 9/12/98.
House Subcommittee Adopts Child Online Protection Act, 9/21/98.
Rush Backs CDA II & Condemns Release of Starr Report, 9/25/98.