Focus Urged in Battle Against Child Porn

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Industry representatives, children's advocates and law enforcement officials made a commitment to step up the international war against child pornography on the Internet at this week's Combating Child Pornography on the Internet conference in Vienna, Austria. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder also called on participants to transform the pledges made at the conference into action.


But some human rights advocates at the gathering, which was sponsored by the European Commission and the governments of the United States and Austria, said the only way to accomplish that goal is to create new laws. They argued that on children's issues specifically, there is little proof that self-regulatory measures have had any impact. They cited the growing problem of Internet child pornography as proof that there is insufficient business oversight on a range of online issues.


According to Paul R. Hagen, a senior research analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, who wrote the organization's "Privacy Wake-Up Call" report released last month, "Ninety-two percent of companies feel like they adequately protect users' privacy by disclosing practices and not selling data. However, 90 percent of sites fail to comply with the four basic privacy protection principles. As data collection intensifies, companies fall further behind."


Self-regulatory advocates suggest the online marketing industry as whole does not see things quite so bleakly.


"I believe the recent emergence of new software products alone shows that self-regulation is working," said Jeff Richards, executive director of the Internet Alliance, who also attended the Vienna summit. "My sense is that conferences [like these] are now being steered away from combining e-mail, hate speech and other areas of content beyond child pornography into one sensationalized issue. We are entering a new stage in which governments are speaking to each other."


Commercial speech, he said, should not be swept up into children's protection issues and debates, which exist as a separate problem from overall Internet regulation.


Still, some privacy advocates argue that the right to free speech and a right to privacy should hold the same value, especially when children's lives and well-being are at stake. Some hope to build coalitions - even political movements - around such issues. Indeed, Eagle Forum conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly is reportedly strategizing with U.S. Public Interest Research Group's Ralph Nader and even the American Civil Liberties Union on the development of regulatory online privacy, consumer and children's protection initiatives.
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