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New US Child Protection Law Might Make Webmasters Second Guess What They Write

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Via Threadwatch, Congress spanks naughty sex sites from News.com covers how the US is likely to gain a new law making it illegal to send people to porn by using misleading text.

From the bill:

2252C. Misleading words or digital images on the Internet

(a) IN GENERAL.—Whoever knowingly embeds words or digital images into the source code of a website with the intent to deceive a person into viewing material constituting obscenity shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not more than 10 years.

(b) MINORS.—Whoever knowingly embeds words or digital images into the source code of a website with the intent to deceive a minor into viewing material harmful to minors on the Internet shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not more than 20 years.

Hmm -- and source code means meta data? Body copy? Both:

the term ‘source code' means the combination of text and other characters comprising the content, both viewable and nonviewable, of a web page, including any website publishing language, programming language, protocol or functional content, as well as any successor languages or protocols.

And what's obscene or harmful to minors? I didn't find that defined in the copy (PDF file) of the bill News.com is pointing at. Section 2252B covers the part about minors, and that's here.

(d) For the purposes of this section, the term “material that is harmful to minors” means any communication, consisting of nudity, sex, or excretion, that, taken as a whole and with reference to its context—

(1) predominantly appeals to a prurient interest of minors;

(2) is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors; and

(3) lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

(e) For the purposes of subsection (d), the term “sex” means acts of masturbation, sexual intercourse, or physcial [1] contact with a person's genitals, or the condition of human male or female genitals when in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal.

The News.com article goes into more depth on how a lack of clarity could mean that a porn site showing things like Barbie dolls having sex could potentially fall into trouble.

As a parent, I certainly appreciate an effort to protect my children and those of others. But I also get worried about laws that potentially are overly broad. What's "obscene" isn't well defined, for example, from what I can see. We'll see how it goes.

FYI, even without this law, the US government has already been able to stop sites that are misleading. FTC Steps In To Stop Spamming covers how in 1999, the US Federal Trade Commission did exactly this in a case of a porn site trying to mislead people to it.


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