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Law of the West

John Scorsine
Peyton, Colo.

I remember when I was growing up parents lamented the evils of their children spending too much time in front of a television. But, that television was a passive device that did nothing more than provide entertainment ” mindless as it may have been. Today, if your children are like those in my home countless hours seem to be spent in front of a computer screen. Through the wonder of the Internet, a child can travel electronically to visit friends not only around the corner, but across the nation and around the globe.

Social networking sites, those refuges on the Internet that are being used for teen social interactions, can be highly valuable experiences. By using sites like Myscape, YouTube and LiveJournal we can broaden a young person’s global understanding of our world-wide community. They can explore friendships with the current day’s equivalent of pen-pals; a Web page, pictures and electronic journal or blog. From the comfort of their bedroom or living room, a youngster can surf to any country in the world and make a new friend. International borders for this next generation will lose much of their relevancy.

However, despite all the benefits of these sites, hazards exist. Not everyone on the social networking sites are what they say they might be. The 14-year-old boy, three states east, that your daughter is communicating with may not be 14 at all. There have been a recent abundance of cases reported in the news of adults using these same sites as a haven for predation on our innocent children. These sexual predators are using the social networking sites on the Web to make contacts with unsuspecting children and to lead them on into physical real time meetings that can end with the most tragic of consequences.

Representative Michael Fitzpatrick (Rep., Pa.) has said, “The social networking sites have in a sense become a happy hunting ground for child predators.” Due to his efforts, and the votes of 410 other Representatives, the House passed the Deleting On-line Predators Act on July 26. This law requires libraries and schools to restrict or eliminate access to social networking sites to child patrons. In this way, it is hoped to limit the threat that these sites present for our children.

On the surface, this would seem to be a reasonable restriction. We would not allow a child predator to set up camp in the schoolyard or youth section of the library. It would seem to make sense to prevent the predator from entering the school or library electronically. But, like so many gestures, this law is one that causes harm while attempting to prevent it.

The law is opposed by the American Libraries Association (ALA) and a variety of groups which seek to protect our rights, and those of our children, under the First Amendment. ALA President Leslie Burger said, “ALA is disappointed by the House’s passage (410-15) today of H.R. 5319, the ‘Deleting Online Predators Act’ (DOPA). This unnecessary and overly broad legislation will hinder students’ ability to engage in distance learning and block library computer users from accessing a wide array of essential Internet applications including instant messaging, email, wikis and blogs.” She went on to say, “Librarians are very concerned with the need to protect children from online predators, and we know that the best way to protect our kids from harm is by teaching them to make wise choices online.”

With its passage by the House, the Act now will go to the Senate for debate and a vote. Whether you support the Bill or oppose its enactment, it’s probably time to make you voice heard.

The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.


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