Thierer Writes: "There is No Need for Congress or the FCC to Mandate
Tools That Already Exist"
WASHINGTON D.C. - August 1, 2007 - Adam Thierer, Senior Fellow with The Progress and Freedom Foundation and the director of its Center for Digital Media Freedom, today released a new paper exploring the implications of S. 602, the "Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007." The measure marks an important turning point in the ongoing battle over content regulation in the information age and is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Commerce Committee this week.
S. 602 requires that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiate a proceeding that would "consider measures to encourage or require the use of advance blocking technologies that are compatible with various communications devices or platforms."
In his paper, Thierer asserts that there is no need for Congress or the FCC to mandate tools that already exist. Moreover, if the FCC starts "approving" certain technologies, it is likely to slow the development of new blocking technologies.
Thierer's view is that the measure, while well intentioned, would create unnecessary regulation where there is no market failure at work. As he pointed out in his recent Progress and Freedom Foundation book, Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods, "There has never been a time in our nation's history when parents have had more tools and methods at their disposal to help them decide what is acceptable in their homes and in the lives of their children."
For example, S. 602 specifies that one of the advanced blocking technologies that the FCC shall "encourage or require" is the use of tools that "can filter language based upon information in closed captioning." But there is no need to mandate this, he points out, because such tools already exist and are available to families today.
In specifying that new advanced content blocking technologies should "operate independently of ratings pre-assigned by the creator of such video or audio programming," S.602 seems to imply that existing voluntary rating and labeling systems cannot be trusted.
"That is a dangerous presumption," he said.
"Sen. Pryor is to be commended for avoiding direct content regulation and instead focusing on empowering families to make media consumption decisions on their own," writes Thierer. "Nonetheless, in an attempt to empower parents it is important that Congress not empower regulators instead. S. 602 opens the door to an expansion of the FCC's authority over media content on multiple platforms and threatens to undermine private, voluntary rating systems in the process. There are better ways to help parents."
The paper is available here.
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.