House Passes Child Online Protection Act and Children's Online Privacy Protection Act

(October 8, 1998 7:00 AM EDT)  The House passed the "Child Online Protection Act" late on Wednesday October 7 by a voice vote.  The bill bans sending to minors over the web material that is harmful to minors.  It is intended to replace the much more broadly worded Communications Decency Act, which was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last year.  The House also passed S 2326, the "Child Online Privacy Protection Act," which requires that website operators and online services that operate websites directed to children obtain parental consent before collecting information from children under the age of thirteen.

The Child Online Protection Act is known by many names.  It is known by its number (HR 3783), by its acronym (COPA), by its sponsor (the Oxley bill), by the sponsor of the Senate version (the Coats bill), and also for the law which it replaces (CDA II).

Relate Pages

Summary of S 1482 and HR 3783, the "Child Online Protection Bill".
Copy of HR 3783.
Copy of S 1482.
Summary of S 2326, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
Copy of S 2326.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH), stated today that, "While the Internet is a tool which can be used to educate and entertain our children, it can also be a dangerous window to the dark world of pornography.  We hope to make the Web a safer place for children to learn."   His bill would allow websites to distribute pornography, but require those websites which distribute material that is harmful to children to verify adult status through the use of credit cards, adult access codes, adult PIN numbers, or other technologies that may be developed in the future.

"COPA employs the 'harmful to minor' standard upheld in federal courts for more than 30 years," Rep. Oxley said. 

Rep. James Greenwood (R-PA), the lead cosponsor of the bill, said "I believe COPA carefully balances the constitutional rights of adults to view certain materials with the compelling governmental interest in protecting children from harmful materials."

Rep. Rick White (R-WA) stated that, "There is some appalling material out there and it is all too easy for children to find it. In fact, I think the problem is worse than it was two years ago when Congress passed the Communications Decency Act. I continue to believe that we need a solution that works in the real world, and the best way to get that solution is not for Congress to pass a law. What we really need is a solution developed by the people who use and operate the Internet every day, and I hope that the commission created by this bill will move us closer to that kind of solution."

Rep. White added that, "No one should let this bill give them a false sense of security. It only applies to commercial material, and it only applies in the United States," said White. "We need to keep working on a solution that will really work for parents and children."

HR 3783 employs the constitutionally tested "harmful to minors" standard, defining it to mirror current law for the print media.  Legal authorities who testified at hearings predicted that it will meet constitutional muster.

The bill, while overwhelmingly popular with legislators, is strongly opposed by liberal civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), People for the American Way (PFAW), and the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF).  The constitutionality of the law will be challenged in the courts, said PFAW attorney Elliot Mincberg last Friday.

Related story: Senate Amends Internet Tax Freedom Act, 10/7/98.

Meanwhile, the Senate today passed a motion to amendment S 442, the "Internet Tax Freedom Act," offered by Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN).  The amendment exempts from the tax moratorium any commercial website engaged in the business of the commercial distribution of material harmful to minors that does not restrict access to such material by children.

The Child Online Protection Act passed by the House today is the same version that was adopted by the House Commerce Committee on September 24.  It was considered under a rule that did not allow amendments, but required a two thirds vote for passage.  It was approved by a voice vote after about forty minutes of debate.

Privacy Bill

The House also passed Sen. Richard Bryan's "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act."  This bill limits the ability of websites to collect personal information from children.  Websites that are directed to children must obtain prior parental consent before collecting data from children under thirteen. The bill also gives the Federal Trade Commission authority to enact regulations and enforce the bill.

This bill has been added on to S 442 in the Senate, which could pass on Friday, October 8.  Sen. Bryan's bill is not controversial.  However, several other aspect of the Internet Tax Freedom Act are very controversial.


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.
House Committee Passes Child Online Protection Act, 9/25/98.
Rush Backs CDA II & Condemns Release of Starr Report, 9/25/98.