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Internet pornography

Now Supreme Court-protected, the task of protecting kids from online smut falls to parents

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Ding dong, the CDA is dead. Now what?

With the overturning of the Communications Decency Act on First Amendment grounds by the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, the question of how to keep your kids from being scorched by the hotter fringes of the Internet goes back to square one. This is only right: The CDA was a crummy law, and the Court recognized it as such. Tacked on to the Telecommunications Reform Act in late 1995, and signed by a President who couldn’t afford to look soft on porn during an election year, the law made it a crime for anyone to make ”indecent” or ”patently offensive” material available online where a minor might even possibly see it.

That approach holds if you think the Internet is like radio or TV; the problem is that it’s a whole new beast, a many-to-many medium that even the fusty justices recognized as unique. Even William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor, in a separate, concurring opinion, conceded that the CDA’s chilling effect on adult speech would be ”akin to a law that makes it a crime for a bookstore owner to sell pornographic magazines to anyone once a minor enters his store.”

So the Feds won’t be censoring cyberspace (for now, anyway; new Net-smut laws already are being drafted, and the Clinton administration is mulling a V-chip-style initiative). That hands the job back to parents, where it should be. There’s plenty of software already available that enables Mom and Dad to filter out nasty websites, chat rooms, and newsgroups: SurfWatch (http://www.surfwatch.com), Net Nanny (http://www.netnanny.com), and Cyber Patrol (http://www.microsys.com), to name just three.

To my mind, in fact, the healthiest aspect of the CDA’s death is that it forces parents to get off their butts and deal with the Internet. Sorry, folks, but you can’t lean on parental-warning stickers and NC-17 ratings here. And lame jokes about your kids’ being more tech savvy than you won’t cut it anymore. Turn on your dang computer, surf the Web, and see what’s there. Get your kids to understand that wolves do, in fact, occasionally lurk among the chat-room sheep. Chances are they already know this; what’s important is that they know you know it, and that you agree on the rules of engagement and disengagement. You may even experience a communication revolution of your own.