Saturday, January 19, 2008

Social networking sites, law enforcement probe for reliable age-ID technology; how would this affect COPA-like laws?

Chris Emery has an important story today (Saturday Jan. 19) in the Baltimore Sun, p A1, “Steps to protect teens online: Attorneys general, Myspace work on ID technology,” link here.

All social networking sites state minimum ages requirements for profiles, and sometimes additional ages before profiles can become globally public. These sites have some practical difficult in having any completely reliable way of knowing that a particular subscriber is not lying about his or her age. That is, an underage person might want an account, or an adult might lie to get to see minors’ profiles, which most sites will not let adults see, for well known reasons.

There are many technologies that can be imagined. The trial over the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (COPA), in which the legislation was found unconstitutional in 2007, rehearsed the inadequacies of credit cards and adult-id cards are reliable identification. Fingerprint or other biometric identification has been proposed (as it has been in conjunction with airport security) but that would limit both adults and minors to computers that have the appropriate biological scanners, which have not yet been developed for mass market use. Environmental factors, such as altitude or even extreme swings in barometric pressure, can physiological changes that could affect these devices furthers. Face metrics could be affected by growth or age. Other suggestions include mailing random tokens from which supplementary, unchangeable passwords could be generated. But so far no really reliable proposal seems to be on the table.

Once some mechanism is available, then all kinds of other issues surface. One is whether adults (particularly amateur or novice speakers) should incur inconvenience or expense to protect minors when they personally pose no risk. Another major question would concern anonymous speech.

All of these concerns would seem to exist with the proposed The Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2007, S. 1086. See my COPA blog here.

Update: Jan. 23, 2008

Anita Kumar has a story in the Metro Section, p B01 of The Washington Post today about an additional appropriation by the Virginia General Assembly to fund two task forces to conduct more online stings similar to those on NBC Dateline, as well as detailed forensic investigations, link here.
The bill is called "Alicia's Law." (Delegate Brian Moran 's link.) There have been multiple news stories about police stings in Arlington VA (catching one off duty police officer) and in Washington DC (catching a field grade Army officer who, after plane travel, was arrested by Metro transit and DC Metropolitan police when trying to meet his "mark" after a chat room exchange.) As on the NBC Dateline show, the overwhelming majority of these cases are "heterosexual."

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