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Commission plans inquiry of COPA consequences

A commission appointed to study issues relating to the Child Online Protection Act will meet tomorrow and Friday to plan an investigation into the effects of the law.

A commission appointed to study issues relating to the Child Online Protection Act will meet tomorrow and Friday to lay the groundwork for an investigation into the effects of the law.

With its first official hearing in Washington, D.C., the so-called COPA Commission will undertake a study of various tools and methods to protect children from "inappropriate" content online.

"I think the commission is anxious to get a real technical assessment of where the Internet is," said Don Telage, commission chairman and executive adviser for Global Strategy at Internet domain registrar Network Solutions. "As we continue down the road, it's pretty clear this commission is going to learn things it doesn't know now."

In the first of three planned hearings, the commission's agenda will cover three technologies: common, or "one-click-away," resources; age verification technology; and the creation of an adult domain, such as ".xxx."

Based on testimony from witnesses and public comments derived from the hearings, the commission will report to Congress by November regarding its evaluation and proposed recommendations for protecting children online.

"I'm just essentially always open to hearing information about the state of the technology and what can be done reasonably to protect younger people from material their parents might find offensive without violating the First Amendment," said Jerry Berman, an appointed commissioner and executive director for the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The commission was established under COPA, which was approved by Congress in October 1998 to "identify technological or other methods that will help reduce access by minors to material that is harmful to minors on the Internet."

COPA makes it a crime for commercial Web sites to give minors adult-oriented material that could be considered "harmful."

The act defines "harmful material" as any sexually explicit communication that lacks "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value." In addition, violators face up to $50,000 in fines and six months in prison.

The commission will have its second and third hearings this summer and will address topics such as filtering and blocking technology, as well as other technologies that have not been considered so far.

Last November, COPA came under fire from a U.S. judge who said the act was too restrictive. In addition, civil rights activists and online merchants and publishers said the law violated First Amendment rights.

A federal lawsuit seeking to invalidate the law has been appealed to the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Penn.