Gonzales calls for mandatory Web labeling law

Attorney general says sexually explicit sites must be labeled or their operators risk jail time.

Web site operators posting sexually explicit information must place official government warning labels on their pages or risk being imprisoned for up to five years, the Bush administration proposed Thursday.

A mandatory rating system will "prevent people from inadvertently stumbling across pornographic images on the Internet," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at an event in Alexandria, Va.

The Bush administration's proposal would require commercial Web sites to place "marks and notices" to be devised by the Federal Trade Commission on each sexually explicit page. The definition of sexually explicit broadly covers depictions of everything from sexual intercourse and masturbation to "sadistic abuse" and close-ups of fully clothed genital regions.

"I hope that Congress will take up this legislation promptly," said Gonzales, who gave a speech about child exploitation and the Internet to the federally funded National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The proposed law is called the Child Pornography and Obscenity Prevention Amendments of 2006.

A second new crime would threaten with imprisonment Web site operators who mislead visitors about sex with deceptive "words or digital images" in their source code--for instance, a site that might pop up in searches for Barbie dolls or Teletubbies but actually features sexually explicit photographs. A third new crime appears to require that commercial Web sites not post sexually explicit material on their home page if it can be seen "absent any further actions by the viewer."

A critic of the proposal said that its requirements amount to an unreasonable imposition on Americans' rights to free expression. In particular, a mandatory rating system backed by criminal penalties is "antithetical to the First Amendment," said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union.

During his speech, Gonzales also warned that Internet service providers must begin to retain records of their customers' activities to aid in future criminal prosecutions--a position first reported by CNET News.com--and indicated that legislation might be necessary there as well. Internet service providers say they already cooperate with police and appear to be girding for a political battle on Capitol Hill over new regulations they view as intrusive.

An idea once proposed by Democrats
The Bush administration's embrace of a rating system backed by criminal penalties is uncannily reminiscent of where the Clinton administration and a Democratic member of Congress were a decade ago.

In the mid-1990s, the then-nascent Internet industry began backing the Platform for Internet Content Selection, or PICS. The idea was simple: let Web sites self-rate, or let a third-party service offer ratings, and permit parents to set their browsers to never show certain types of content. Netscape and Microsoft soon agreed to support it in their browsers.

At a White House summit in July 1997 hosted by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the head of the Lycos search engine proposed that only rated pages would be indexed. (Bob Davis, the president of Lycos at the time, said: "I threw a gauntlet to other search engines in today's meeting saying that collectively we should require a rating before we index pages.") Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, suggested that misrating a Web site should be a federal crime. And Australian government officials began talking about making self-rating mandatory.

Featured Video
6
This content is rated TV-MA, and is for viewers 18 years or older. Are you of age?
Sorry, you are not old enough to view this content.

Man flies 54-propeller superdrone, almost flips it, Ep. 217

This week on Crave, we walk you through a futuristic new automated restaurant in San Francisco, get navigation directions from the sultry voice of Stephen Colbert on Waze, and fly a drone with 54 propellers that can carry a full-grown man. It's the Crave show!

by Stephen Beacham