Senator Wages War On Online Porn

By Bryan Sanders of the CBS News Political Unit.

New legislation to restrict access to Internet pornography was introduced today as a new report finds use of Internet pornography rising, especially among children.

The Internet Safety and Child Protection Act, sponsored by Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, would establish strict age verification requirements for access to pornography Web sites and a federal "smut tax" of 25 percent to fund efforts to protect children from inappropriate material—and sexual predators—online.

According to a new study by Third Way, a progressive strategy firm that consults Democrats on ways to reach out to more conservative voters, there are over 420 million pornography websites on the Internet, compared to just 14 million in 1998, Although technology exists to prevent minors from accessing the pornographic Web sites, only 3 percent of these sites use the technology.

Reports show the largest consumers of Internet pornography are children between the ages of 12-17, an issue Lincoln's bill seeks to address. Strict age verification requirements, using screening technologies approved by the FTC, would become mandatory for all pornographic Web sites under the new legislation.

"While it is as difficult as ever for a teenager to walk into a store and buy a pornographic magazine, it is as easy as 'point-and-click' for an 11-year-old child to view streaming pornographic video online," says Sean Barney, the author of the Third Way report.

The age verification system to be used by the websites is not specified in the bill, but it must be certified by FTC. One popular system used by companies in the liquor and tobacco industry is VerifyME, a software program requiring users to enter personal information and a government-issued identification number, from a passport or driver's license, which is then checked against public records for confirmation.

The report concedes that the system is not perfect but supporters of tougher age verification for Internet porn claim it is far better than the status quo—a simple age check-off box. "The best online age-verification systems replicate the act of 'carding,' which is the standard means of verifying age everywhere else but on the Internet," the report stated.

In the meantime, the tax levied on Internet porn transactions would go into a trust fund, part of which would be spent on developing better verification technologies.

The trust fund would also be used to address the problem of children becoming prey to shady elements of the sex industry. The Third Way study found 140,000 images of child pornography on the Internet over a six week period and estimates the child pornography industry may bring in as much as $1 billion annually. Revenues from Lincoln's "smut tax" would also be spent on law enforcement efforts against the sexual exploitation of children.

Will the porn industry fight Lincoln's bill? Tom Hymes, spokesman for Free Speech Coalition, an advocacy group representing 900 companies in the porn industry told CBS News, "It is sad, but typical, that no one contacted the adult industry to discuss the perceived problems, but instead proposed a Draconian 25 percent tax on Web sites. We want to help keep minors from inappropriate material. We hope that the Senator will sit down and work with the industry, rather than legislate based upon false premises."
By Bryan Sanders