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

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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