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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
August 18, 2009
(202) 289-8928
Online Child Safety, Privacy and Free Speech
PFF Releases Transcript of July Panel on Legislative Challenges

WASHINGTON D.C. - Online child safety, privacy, and free speech remain hotly debated issues at both the federal and state levels.   How serious are these concerns? Is legislation or regulation needed to address them? What free speech issues are at stake? Should Congress take the lead or leave it to the States to experiment with different models? These and other issues were discussed Monday, July 27th by panelists at "Online Child Safety, Privacy and Free Speech: An Overview of Challenges in Congress & the States," a Congressional seminar hosted by The Progress & Freedom Foundation.  PFF is releasing a transcript of the event.

PFF Senior Fellow Adam Thierer, who acted as moderator of the event, began the discussion by describing current online safety issues. He also outlined regulatory, privacy and free speech issues surrounding government responses and proposed solutions to the problem.

Parry Aftab, Executive Director of, discussed federal legislation that has been proposed to address cyberbullying, including making such behavior a felony.  "We have cyber harassment laws in all 50 states," she explained, "and if I need legal help in order to go in and stop something that's a death threat or something that falls into what's criminal, I can deal with it on the state level. There's a cyber stalking bill that already exists, a law that already exists federally. I think we have what we need on that end."

Todd Haiken, Senior Manager of Policy at Common Sense Media, outlined what he viewed as the biggest change in proposed solutions to online safety concerns: the shift away from a focus on crime and risk prevention to an education and empowerment model.  Thus far, Haiken argued, "crime and risk prevention has been predicated on fear." However, he continued, "people are starting to come around and actually read the research and see that the research is saying that it's peer on peer and there's major issues there. That's not to say that when something happens with a predator that it's not tragic. However, we're not looking at the bigger reality."

Jim Halpert, Partner at DLA Piper, questioned the effectiveness of proposed regulation.  "To think that we can somehow coerce better behavior through regulation and criminal sanctions," he explained, "is really just kind of silly when you think about the problem that exists in terms of interacting with children.  It really comes down to just educating them and making them better aware of what they're doing and what the consequences might be."

Berin Szoka, Senior Fellow at The Progress & Freedom Foundation, voiced concern over the costs to websites if mandatory screening or filtering of users was implemented.  He explained that "if every website, every blog around the world that integrates social networking has to take on responsibility for doing that kind of screening or filtering or segregation of users, the effect on the media landscape and Internet culture would be enormous."

The complete discussion and questions from attendees can be found in the event transcript.  At the event, PFF also launched the latest edition of its book, Parental Controls and Online Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods, which offers parents and policymakers a comprehensive inventory of the many excellent tools and strategies that can be used to protect kids online. Version 4.0 of the book is available on the PFF website.

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