Dot-kids bill clears House hurdle

A House committee approves a proposal that would provide a child-friendly Web space that places restrictions on chat rooms and e-mail.

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A bill that seeks to establish a special domain for children's Web sites cleared a House committee Wednesday, but lawmakers set high hurdles for sites that would reside there.

The U.S. House Energy Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved "The Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act" after making some changes to the proposal that are designed to stave off child predators.

The changes include prohibitions on what sponsor Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., calls "high-risk interactive services," or most types of instant messaging, chat rooms, e-mail and even hyperlinks that take children outside of the domain. To provide such services, sites would have to demonstrate the features aren't dangerous to children.

The goal of the bill is to provide a safe space for children on the Web, the latest in a long line of attempts to make the Internet child-friendly.

Lawmakers have long tried, with varying degrees of success, to regulate Web content in the interest of children. Attempts have included bills prohibiting content deemed inappropriate for minors, provisions that were later found unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Another law, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), bans sites from collecting personal information about children without first receiving parental permission.

A representative for Shimkus said the full House could vote on the dot-kids bill as early as next week.

Other additions in the bill call for collection of detailed contact data from operators of dot-kids sites and the right to pull the plug on the domain or transfer oversight to another company if it isn't working out as planned.

Right now, the legislation calls for Washington, D.C.-based NeuStar to oversee .kids.us, a second-level domain within .us. The legislation's supporters originally hoped to create a separate .kids domain that would function as a top-level domain similar to .com or .org. However, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees administration of such domains, put the kibosh on the proposal.