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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
May 11 , 2007
(202) 289-8928
Age Verification for Social Networking Sites
PFF Releases Transcript of March Panel on Online Child Protection Efforts

WASHINGTON D.C. - Prompted by child safety concerns, some legislators and state attorneys general have proposed that social networking sites impose age restrictions or verification schemes. Will age verification make children safer online? These proposals and other methods of ensuring safe online environments were discussed Friday, March 23rd by panelists at "Age Verification for Social Networking Sites: Is It Possible? And Desirable?" a Congressional seminar hosted by The Progress & Freedom Foundation. In light of continuing legislative efforts to address child safety concerns, PFF is releasing a transcript of the event.

PFF Senior Fellow Adam Thierer, moderator of the March event, began the discussion by outlining various legislative proposals at both the state and federal level which attempt to address perceived dangers associated with social networking websites. Thierer then asked each panelist, who represented the views of private industry, child safety advocates and policymakers, to express their views on age verification on social networking sites.

Jay Chaudhuri, Special Counsel to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, explained why various policymakers felt the need to regulate social networking websites. He stated, "Clearly, the industry of social networking sites needs to step up to the plate and take on some corporate responsibility so that they make the parent's job easier." He explained that Attorneys General have "advocated that these websites implement some kind of safety measures. One of the key safety measures that has been advocated has been age verification."

John Cardillo, President and CEO of Sentinel Tech Holding, outlined both logistical problems and safety concerns associated with age verification. Specifically, he explained that age verification for children doesn't work because of lack of verifiable data and information. Cardillo also warned against a false sense of security age verification can result in because it is not background screening. He cautioned, "we're giving the pedophiles, the felon, a level of credibility. We're putting some kind of a seal next to their name, saying they were verified on some level for something. That's a scary concept to me."

Raye Croghan, Vice President of IDology, Inc., viewed age verification and self-regulating policies as a usable and reliable tool that has already been used in other industries. She also challenged the idea that verification would create a false sense of security. "We need to work together in order to come up with a reasonable solution," she explained. "Age verification, or verification, or identity verification does not challenge anonymity. If it's deployed appropriately, it actually builds confidence, loyalty and trust, something that we're working very hard to do across the Internet."

Jeff Schmidt, CEO of Authis and director of the private sector component of the FBI's InfraGard Program, echoed previously voiced concerns about age verification mandates creating a false sense of security. "So, if you're doing age verification to create safe areas, and I'm telling you that no security is 100 percent, then we're going to have bad guys in these safe areas, as John (Cardillo) just said. We know that to be a fact," he explained. "No security is infallible. Every safe area that we have will have bad guys in it."

Tim Lordan, Executive Director of the Internet Education Foundation, identified two concerns about age verification mandates. "Social networking is not some unique technology, patent pending, rather, it's just a stitching together of existing communication technologies wrapped into a web platform," he stated. "So in many ways, everything is defined as social networking." Lordan explained that any website with some sort of communication function could fall under the definition of a social networking site, unintentionally broadening the scope of sites affected by verification mandates. "The other thing that we're very concerned about is that the people that are running into trouble online, the teens, are really a unique and different set of young people," he continued. "For education purposes, we're wondering, well, how do we reach them?"

Initial panel remarks were followed by a fervent discussion amongst the participants and audience members. Complete statements from the panelists and questions from attendees can be found in the event transcript.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation