DOPA rises from the ashes

A while back I posted about the ill-conceived Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), a congressional bill designed to protect children from online predators by making it illegal to use public computers — such as those found in public libraries and public schools — to access sites that involve some kind of social networking functionality. Sounds good, but it was technologically naive and pedagogically damaging. Fortunately, the bill got stuck in red tape and has quietly died away.

Er, until now. From Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) of Bridge to Nowhere and Tubes fame, we have the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act.

The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act would block minors from using public computers to view social-networking sites. But the act’s definition of social networking is awfully vague: Any site that “permits registered users to create an online profile that includes detailed personal information” or “enables communication among users” appears to be a candidate for blocking. By those standards, Web sites like Wikipedia and even Amazon would seem to be in danger.

A person who thinks that protecting children means isolating them from interactions with the outside world, simply does not understand the nature of children, the nature of the internet, or really the nature of interaction itself. This is a lot like saying I am going to protect my daughters from potential bad guys by locking them up in the house until they come of age, and not allow them any communication with the outside world. It’s downright creepy to think that this is in any sense “protecting” children.

And given that just about every piece of software that is in significant use by kids today — including GMail, Wikipedia, and Google Earth, which have enormous educational potential — fall under this bill’s rubric, the bill also shows a profound lack of understanding of both technology and education. It uses the term “21st Century” in the title, but it is firmly rooted in the 17th century in terms of its conception of education and “protection”.

Finally, the idea that the best way to protect kids from online predators is to deny them access to the sites they normally use, shows a unique failure to understand the mind of a kid. The best way to ensure that a kid accesses something he shouldn’t is to deny it to him, for Pete’s sake.

Here’s an RSS feed for activity on this bill, via GovTrack.

[Hat tip: Wired Campus Blog]

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Filed under Education, Social software, Technology

2 responses to “DOPA rises from the ashes

  1. Robert,

    I like the cleanliness of this theme, also; however, I don’t like the layout. The eye (at least in western cultures) moves from left to right, yet the most important information on the screen – your post content – is all the way to the right. Also, with both columns (sidebars) on the left, the sidebar content takes up a full 1/3 of the screen – escalating its visibility/importance even more. In other words, the layout (IMHO) distracts from the most important element on the screen: your blog post content. (But I love the colors, fonts, and clean look!)

  2. Strange – I wrote that comment on the permalink page for your “For Those Keeping Up With My Theming Obsession” post, but somehow it ended up under this post (where it appears to be quite the non-sequitur).

    I agree with your assessment of DOPA. Actually, I have some Julie Amero update blogging to do today, and I think I can tie the two topics together: namely, the folly of allowing those who lack technical knowledge to make decisions based on the use of that technology.