The Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) is legislation that has been introduced in the U.S. Congress that aims to restrict school and library access to social networking sites. Last week, it passed by an overwhelming majority in the House, and is now making its way to the Senate. If passed in the Senate, DOPA would likely go into effect.
DOPA proposes that all schools and libraries who receive E-Rate funding for their internet access would be required to block sites that meet the following criteria:
- If it is offered by a commercial entity.
- If it permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed personal information.
- If permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users.
- If it elicits highly-personalized information from users.
- if enables communication among users.
E-Rate reimbursement is funding received by schools and libraries for the fees they incur through providing internet access. Already, some degree of filtering is required to receive the funding, which most schools and libraries comply with. Very few libraries can afford not to receive E-Rate funding, and even fewer schools can afford not to. Therefore, most will continue to comply with the government’s restrictions on online access in order to receive the neccessary funding.
Such legislation would not only block sites like MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, and other social networking sites, but it could potentially block sites such as AOL, Yahoo, and MSN as all three of those also meet the criteria. And not only would it limit children’s access, but also potentially adults’ who wish to use the filtered PCs.
Instead of making laws that restrict the things kids can do even more, why not invest more money into educating them about the dangers of online predators? Why not encourage parents to take responsibility and actually talk to their kids? Come on, we all know how kids are… if you make it so that they cannot access these sites, they will try their damndest to find away around it. Whether that means hacking the computers or network, or simply “studying” after school at a friend’s house to access the sites… they will do it.
The issue is going to the Senate, and it is rumoured that they will fast-track it into passage. I fear the direction that we are headed in – relying on “laws” to protect our children, and how easily many are willing to give up their rights for a false sense of security.
As a library employee, I am proud to be a part of an organization (ALA) that staunchly opposes such legislation, and I am glad that I am lucky enough to be a part of a library who can afford to say “screw you” to the government and miss out on E-Rate discounts. However I am saddened that many libraries and schools across the country cannot afford to stand up for what they believe in and cannot afford not to receive the E-Rate discounts, for they must bend to the each and every whim of the government.