House Passes Bill to Block Web Sites

A near-unanimous vote in the U.S. House of Representatives may soon make social networking sites and chat rooms inaccessible in public locations such as libraries and schools, however its broad wording may end up shuttering access to many sites that do not pose a threat to minors.

Called the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), the bill's supporters regularly mention MySpace in defense of it. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Republican from suburban Philadelphia and chief sponsor of the legislation, said the bill would give parents more control over what their kids are doing on the Internet when away from home.

"Parents pay the taxes that fund the Internet access to schools and libraries and they should have a say in how their subsidy is used," Fitzpatrick said. "Today, Congress has acted on their concerns. My bill will help parents protect their kids when they are not home."

The bill passed with wide bipartisan support, on a 410-15 vote. But its wording could lock out access to thousands of innocent sites due to its vagueness. In the bill, a social-networking site is defined as one that allows users to create an online profile, blog, post personal information and interact between users.

Essentially, this would mean sites such as BetaNews, which allows commenting on its articles, could be locked out. Other sites that would be targeted include Amazon.com, which allows its customers to post profiles; Web logs such as Engadget, which allows interaction between users; and blog services such as Blogger, MSN Spaces and Yahoo! 360 which allow the posting of personal information.

While the bill has passed with support from both Republicans and Democrats, it is seen as mostly a conservative-driven effort by those who oppose it. Republican pollsters surveyed nearly two dozen districts to find out what issues are important among its voters, and the problem of online predators surfaced as a common issue.

Fitzpatrick himself is involved in a tough fight with Democrat Patrick Murphy, an Iraq War veteran. The district is considered one of the Democrat's second tier pick-up opportunities, although its makeup favors socially conservative candidates.

Murphy has proposed laws protecting children, and has said that DOPA does not go far enough. "It seems our Congressman is involved in the typical Washington game of putting out nice sounding legislation that could make the problem worse, not better, and leaves the dangerous impression that he's actually doing something to protect children," he said.

Tech lobbyists are attempting to block what looks to be a speedy passage in the Senate, saying the law is way too broad and risks blocking sites that pose no risk to minors. Furthermore, MySpace has put 100 people on the job of security and customer care in an effort to address concerns.

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