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A View from Brad King

GOP's "Suburban Caucus" Takes on Social Networks

A few midwestern lawmakers hope to make sites with user profiles inaccessible from public computers.

  • July 28, 2006

Public spaces that offer general computer use, such as libraries, may be forced to restrict access to sites that enable people to post user profiles, according to this story by News.com’s Declan McCullagh.

The measure, dubbed the “Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006,” would cast a sweeping net around public computers, forcing network administrators to virtually wall off access to websites. The American Library Association fought hard against the measure, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 410-15, because the group says it would “hinder students’ ability to engage in distance learning and block library computer users from accessing a wide array of essential Internet applications including instant messaging, email, wikis and blogs,” said ALA president Leslie Burger, according to this post on LibraryJournal.com.

This is just the latest frightening attempt by politicians to limit access to cyberspace, something that just a few years ago was unthinkable. However, our lawmakers have shown an immense ignorance about the underlying structures and philosophies that helped fuel the growth of the Internet, as Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) illustrated with his ridiculous description of how information is delivered, so there is little reason to believe there won’t be more legislation like this in the near term.

What makes the future of Net regulation scarier: it’s an election year, when difficult issues oftentimes get boiled down into easy-to-sell slogans. It appears as if the DOPA legislation was crafted in part by a group of Republican lawmakers who call themselves the “Suburban Caucus” and have assembled a four-tiered platform of education, health care, conservation, and economic issues aimed at winning the heartland vote, according this article on TheHill.com:

Child safety and education are an obvious focus of these other issues, and many of these prospective voters are also concerned that it will be harder for their children to remain in the middle class than it was for them or their parents to get there.

In other words, stopping child predators and fixing a slowing economy are very difficult tasks, but blocking MySpace accounts in public libraries is easy.

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