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Senators take another stab at shielding kids online

New effort lacks some of the more aggressive requirements Congress has previously considered, such as blocking social-networking sites and compelling ISPs to record user behavior.

Here's another bill to add to the heap of congressional proposals offered in the spirit of combating child pornography and keeping kids safe from predators on the Internet.

It's called the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, and it was proposed on Thursday by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)--along with Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).

But this one doesn't seem to be as aggressive as some previous approaches, which called for requiring everything from labeling Web sites containing sexually explicit content to wiping out access to social-networking sites and chat rooms on school- and library-based computers.

If the 11-page bill seen by CNET on Friday becomes law, ISPs would face tripled fines for failing to report child pornography on their servers--up to $150,000 for failing to report child pornography the first time and up to $300,000 for each subsequent failures. But unlike an earlier draft proposal by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), however, this version does not attempt to expand those reporting requirements to include other Web operations, such as commercial Web sites and personal blogs.

The ISPs would, however, also have to include a variety of information in their reports that is not required by existing law, including any relevant user IDs, e-mail addresses, geographic information and IP addresses of the involved person or reported content.

In addition to proposing that both schools and federal regulators institute online safety educational campaigns, the bill would establish an "online safety and technology working group." Composed of businesses, public-interest groups and relevant federal agency representatives, they would be charged with exploring the state of various industry efforts dealing with, you guessed it, online safety.

Among the topics slated for discussion is ISPs' existing data retention practices. That's a far more watered-down approach than some draft legislation circulating last year, in which politicians, backed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, were considering requiring ISPs to record data about their users and hang onto it for a specified block of time in an effort to aid investigators.

After meeting, the working group would be required to issue a report to the Senate Commerce Committee and the Commerce Department about the "prevalence" of online safety educational campaigns, blocking and filtering software and parental control technologies--along with recommendations about what sort of "incentives" could be used to boost use of those techniques. Such reports, however, have been known to fuel calls for new laws.

The House of Representatives is also scheduled to turn to the issue of "Internet sex crimes" before politicians scoot out of town for their August recess. On Friday afternoon, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and three of their Democratic colleagues plan to stage a press conference at which Conyers is expected to announce hearings on the topic this fall.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D) is likely to make another push at the event for his bill, the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act of 2007 (or KIDS Act, for short). It would require convicted sex offenders to register their online identifiers, such as e-mail addresses and screen names, in a federal database that could be checked by commercial social-networking sites.