Internet Online Summit fails to satisfy free-speech advocates or concerned parents

Ever since the Supreme Court struck down the Communications Decency Act, which would have outlawed exposing ”indecent” material to minors on the Net, everyone from America Online to Al Gore has been trying to figure out how to hide the cyberporn from the little ones. Hence the Internet Online Summit, last month’s Washington, D.C., gathering organized by high-tech firms for two purposes: (1) to placate parents while (2) avoiding charges of censorship from First Amendment defenders. The summit achieved neither goal.

Free-speech groups believe that website-blocking software and self-rating systems could lead to censorship, especially for Net news sites. At a counter-summit, First Amendmenteers conducted 100 searches on a traditional search engine, then performed the same queries using a ”family friendly” search site. The results, they said, showed why some filtering software has been dubbed ”censorware.”

Most of the summit’s core contingent of online-industry heavyweights don’t want the Net regulated any more than the ACLU does, but if they’re going to make big money, they’ll have to convince Mom and Pop that cyberspace is offspring friendly. No surprise, then, that the summit’s only concrete achievement was an agreement to mount a prime-time public-service-announcement campaign.

The reluctance to banish porn peddlers alienated such right-wing religious groups as the Family Research Council, whose members would sooner napalm the Net than expose their children to a bared nipple. They dropped out of the summit, calling it an Internet ”love-fest.”

The summit winner: the average adult Web user, who can rest assured will be just as available as Catcher in the Rye online. The losers: those families that have banned the Net until they consider it kid safe.