During a day of debate on a, the Senate Commerce Committee approved an amendment backed by the Bush administration that proponents claim would help clean up the Internet and protect children online.
It says that commercial Web sites must not place "sexually explicit material" on their home pages upon pain of felony prosecution--and, in addition, they must rate "each page or screen of the website that does contain sexually explicit material" with a system to be devised by the Federal Trade Commission.
"This will protect children from accidentally typing in the wrong address and immediately viewing indecent material," said Sen. Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican who is the co-founder of the Congressional Internet Caucus.
Burns said that politicians "have to take a bold step in this world of danger to our kids, and there are some people out there who prey on young children and they use the Internet and other methods to feed their sickness."
Civil libertarians have opposed the mandatory labeling proposal, saying it violates the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. Also, courts have taken a dim view of mandatory rating systems: In a 1968 case called Interstate Circuit v. Dallas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dallas' ordinance requiring that movies be rated was unconstitutional because the criteria for rating were unclear and vague.
Burns' seven-page amendment is virtually identical to a standalone bill introduced by Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican. Both proposals follow from a during which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called on Congress to "promptly" enact such a law.
Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, had planned to offer a "very similar" amendment and Senate aides would combine the two before a floor vote, said Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who serves as the committee chairman.
Stevens also postponed discussion of what has proven one of the thorniest provisions of the massive telecommunications bill:. Senators plan to begin debate on that topic on Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, with votes on a number of amendments expected.
The entire communications bill won't become law unless it receives final approval by the committee and, later, the full Senate. It must also be reconciled withthat differs in many respects, including having no Internet labeling requirements.