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Protecting Kids From Internet Porn

One of the best ways to protect children from pornography on the Internet may be to teach them to protect themselves, experts said on Thursday.

Filters, monitoring systems and watching children closely can also work. But none are foolproof, according to the report issued by America's National Research Council.

In general, common sense should prevail, the report says. Parents should be aware of what their children are doing by talking with them.

The study comes as a three-judge federal panel in Philadelphia is weighing the constitutionality of a law requiring public libraries to install pornography-blocking software on their computers.

On Wednesday, members of Congress, angry at the Supreme Court for striking down parts of an anti-child pornography law last month, proposed legislation they hope will succeed in banning computer simulations of teen-agers or children having sex.

Congress asked the National Research Council to study the problem of Internet pornography in 1998. The report was written after the Council's team of experts held meetings across the country and invited reports and studies on the issue of children and Internet porn.

The study estimated that, worldwide, there are about 400,000 for-pay adult Internet sites, out of more than 2 billion publicly accessible Web pages.

The report reviews the various methods of controlling porn, from taking legal action to filters that lock out access to sites that contain certain key words. The report comes to no single conclusion but advises educating children of all ages.

"Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms," the report reads. "All of these measures are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one's children is to teach them to swim."

Internet porn poses a special challenge, the report said.

"The fact that children can sometimes see — and even sometimes seek out — images of naked people is not new. However, compared to other media, the Internet has characteristics that make it harder for adults to exercise responsible supervision over children's use of it," the report reads.

"A particularly worrisome aspect of the Internet is that inappropriate sexually explicit material can find its way onto children's computer screens without being actively sought. Further, it is easy to find on today's Internet not only images of naked people, but also graphically depicted acts of heterosexual and homosexual intercourse," it adds.

The Internet also offers two-way communication via e-mail, which lets strangers make contact with kids.

The study was welcomed by Judith F. Krug, director of the office for intellectual freedom of the American Library Association.

She said the findings "confirm ALA's view that protecting children online is complex and the solutions demanded are also complex as well as varied.

"I am particularly pleased to see that filters are not touted as the only solution, nor even the best solution," she added. "If you educate children you are developing an internal filter that is going to remain with them throughout their life."

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