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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
April 15, 2009
(202) 289-8928
FCC Should Tread Carefully in Content Blocking Proceeding
Thierer Files Comments with FCC on Parental Control Technologies

WASHINGTON D.C. - The Federal Communications Commission should tread carefully in its new study of parental control tools and technologies, states PFF Senior Fellow Adam Thierer in comments filed regarding implementation of the "Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007."  The agency has no authority over most of the media platforms and technologies described in the Commission's recent Notice of Inquiry, explains Thierer. Moreover, any related mandates or regulatory actions could diminish future innovation in this field and would violate First Amendment rights.

In the comments, Thierer offers conclusions drawn from his PFF special report, "Parental Controls and Online Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods," which is entering its fourth edition.  These include:

  • There exists an unprecedented abundance of parental control tools to help parents decide what constitutes acceptable media content in their homes and in the lives of their children.
  • There is a trade-off between complexity and convenience for both tools and ratings, and no parental control tool is completely foolproof.
  • Most homes have no need for parental control technologies because parents rely on other methods or there are no children in the home.
  • The role of household media rules and methods is underappreciated and those rules have an important bearing on this debate.
  • Parental control technologies work best in combination with educational efforts and parental involvement.
  • The search for technological silver-bullets and "universal" solutions represent a quixotic, Holy Grail-like quest and it will destroy innovation in this marketplace.
  • Enforcement of "household standards" made possible through use of parental controls and other methods negates the need for "community standards"-based content regulation.

In addition to the findings listed above, Thierer voices concern about the agency's jurisdiction regarding parental control tools and technologies and implications for free speech.  "One might argue that merely studying the marketplace poses no harm, but what raises flags here are the Commission's regulatory powers, which often run afoul of the First Amendment's prohibition against content-meddling—even indirectly—with free speech and artistic expression," he explains.  Thierer suggests that, in order to avoid constitutional concerns, the FCC's role should be limited to educational efforts and examination of tools available.

The comments and related publications are available on the PFF website. Thierer has been awarded the Family Online Safety Institute's "Award for Outstanding Achievement" and served on the Harvard Law School's Internet Safety Technical Task Force. He was recently appointed to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) Online Safety and Technology Working Group.

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.



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