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Readers divided on Net zoning

After the Supreme Court's rejection of the CDA, many Netizens appear amenable to Internet "zoning," a NEWS.COM Poll shows.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's rejection of the Communications Decency Act, a substantial minority of Netizens appear amenable to the idea of Internet "zoning," according to the results of a NEWS.COM Poll.

While most Net users tend to lean toward libertarianism on the issue of Internet content regulation and were overwhelmingly opposed to the CDA, a surprisingly high 43 percent of poll respondents felt that creating safe "zones" for Internet content would be one reasonable way to address concerns about minors and online smut. The CDA would have penalized the transmission of "indecent" material to minors with fines and prison time.

Some of those who thought zoning was a good idea were clear about articulating that they were against CDA-style rules, calling that tantamount to censorship, and insisted on parental responsibility. "Censorship of the an inane approach," wrote reader Scott Bulloch, who supports zoning. "Parents need to spend more time with their kids...If [children] see something that bothers them, encourage them to talk about it, but don't censor it."

Another reader also vouched for zoning as a means to the end of choice and control at the individual level. "Just as we can limit the kinds of cable channels coming into our homes, we should be able to limit the kinds of Web sites we will allow to be viewed or downloaded," wrote Allen Thorpe. "Zoning is the easiest way."

Others raised questions regarding the wherewithal, technical and otherwise, to implement content zones. "Zoning will only work if the users are identified by whether or not they are of age to visit zoned areas," one reader stressed. "18? 21? What's the standard? And how would they be definitively identified? By digital signature certificate?"

"Enforcement of zoning laws would require an infrastructure to make the government capable of regulating content on the Internet," argued Charles Duffy. "Were it possible to regulate pornography, could antigovernment speech not be as easily supressed--and if not by the United States, then by someone else? After all, such regulations would not work if only recognized in the United States...Who knows what abuses would occur overseas?"

One poll respondent saw zones as inevitable. "I don't think the Internet should be zoned, but it will be. Why? To pacify those that would have the Net censored down to the last bit of data. There is no other reason that the Internet should be censored other than to satisfy overly sensitive adults, and for political reasons."

See the following page for more readers' explanations of their votes.

Zones are stupid-simple
Of course the Internet should be zoned! Not only into porn and nonporn areas, for the convenience of parents who want to give children as much freedom as possible, but also in many other useful ways that will help everyone find what they're looking for:

  • Zones by language so that your translating browser will know which language to begin translating from.

  • Zones by level of HTML so that your browser will know ahead of time whether it can read a page and won't waste your time.

  • Zones of areas endorsed as having scholarly or other kinds of merit by various organizations. (If this were accomplished using HTML tags, the search engines could offer variously filtered searches as options.)

    PICS is only the beginning. The point is that hidden HTML tags are a tool to help users filter out whatever they don't want. If information is abundant, filtering becomes more important than ever, unless we all want to spend 18 hours a day glued to a screen.

    ".Com" is confusing
    The best way for the Net to go at this point would be the equivalent of "zoning." I would like to see--and this wouldn't be a hard thing to do--perhaps a extension set aside for this sort of thing. For instance, we already have ".mil" for military, ".gov" for government, and so on. How difficult would it be to assign one more extension, such as ".xxx" ".sex," or something similar? It would allow for much easier parental control, especially if blocking of certain domain types were built into the browser. The ".com" group of domains is such a muddle right now that this may help.
     --Scott Bulloch

    The idea is "unworkable"
    I think Internet zoning is an interesting idea, but unworkable.

    Chopping the Net up into "neighborhoods" and only policing some of them doesn't change the fundamental "unpoliceability" of the technology. The main problems are:

  • What do you zone? Or more to the point, which protocol do you zone? You would need different zoning strategies the Web, for FTP, for IRC, for news, etc.

  • Nonlocal control. As has been said many times before, the highly distributed nature of the Net that gives it its robustness also makes it fundamentally impossible to control.

  • Sheer volume.

    It should also be borne in mind that we already have Net zoning to some degree. Certain online services claim to have some control over the content they carry. Has this had any history of working? As it happens, I think zoning would be a reasonable idea, if it could be made to work, but I don't believe it could.
     --Duncan Ellis

    They're already here
    The Internet already IS zoned. Relatively few sites providing content unsuitable for minors are doing it for free, and in most cases, they require a credit card number for access. Since credit cards aren't supposed to be doled out to minors (unless their parents permit it), voila, we've got a solution.

    This world needs more solutions that offer a legal defense *and* profits.
     --Daniel J. Birchall

    Protection needs to be extended online
    If all senders of adult material were required to include a standard "tag" in their HTML, it would be very easy for browsers to provide parents with password defenses for their children.

    I also see no excuse for not equally punishing recipients of illegal transmissions, as some states are now doing with underage buyers of alcohol and tobacco products.
     --Al Sorel

    Seek and ye shall find
    First of all, who can control every single face in front of a monitor? And if so, it can be as in the Aldous Huxley city with Big Brother controlling every single thing of our lives.

    In my case, I haven't found many porn sites, principally because I was not particularly looking for them. I mean, porn places are visited by people interested on that particular kind of sites, not children looking for games.
     --Luz Futten

    Zoning will encroach freedom
    Enforcement of zoning laws would require an infrastructure to make the government capable of regulating content on the Internet. Were it possible to regulate pornography, could antigovernment speech not be as easily supressed--and if not by the U.S., then by someone else? After all, such regulations would not work if only recognized in the U.S. Who knows what abuses would occur overseas?

    Furthermore, the arguments claiming pornography to be a great threat are not particularly valid. Most sites offering porn require a credit card number and are therefore not accessible to children. The media has made this into an issue; However, it is not nearly of as great significance as freedom of speech.

    The Internet has the potential to be a great resource for democracy. Let's not let that potential be spoiled by an antipornography scare.
     --Charles Duffy

    Double-edged sword
    I really do think that a system of zoning on the Internet would go a long way toward solving the current problems that we have concerning children and access to the Net. Not only that, but a categorization of information like a "super-Yahoo" would help Web users in all tasks, i.e. the grouping of all travel-related sites into a certain domain area would certainly help me in finding the best ticket price.

    But I think that an idea such as zoning would fall prey to the rapid zealots who guard against any infringement on the right to free speech, beneficial or not. A proposal such as this would be fought as a ghettoization of unpopular material which could lead to interference or suppression. Free speech advocates might argue that a zoning proposal would be much like the adult labeling controversy for the recording industry, a "government" imposed valuation or implicit censorship of material.

    Furthermore, how would the zoning proposal be implemented? Would it be a voluntary program, like PICS, or imposed by the government or an international body? Would Web site owners fight being categorized into a certain zone like an adult zone? There would certainly be headaches concerning this problem, much like the ones facing the current blocking-software companies. Would the adult zone turn out to be over- or underinclusive? I have seen the press publicize the accidental inclusion of nonadult sites into blocking software and would zoning be any different?

    I am afraid that these problems, along with many others, would prohibit the use of such a zoning idea. I really do think something has to be done about it. While I firmly believe that parents should educate their children and have confidence in them to make the right decisions, I think that more is involved. Parents should guard their children, but they should have a reasonable burden to guard against.

    I think that an area of zoning would help parents, who cannot be everywhere at all times, to guard their children against potentially harmful material. The ability to shut off the zone or to tell children that it was unsafe to go there would ease the burden on parents and society alike. Certainly, some children would go anywhere their parents told them not to, but a system of zoning would be a net benefit to society.
     --Sean Selin

    It's inevitable
    I don't think the Internet should be zoned. But it will be. Why? To pacify those that would have the Net censored down to the last bit of data. There is no other reason that the Internet should be censored other than to satisfy overly sensitive adults and for political reasons. The facade is to protect children, and I do understand, I have seen some really disgusting things out there that I certainly wouldn't want my kids to see. But, as it happens, children are smart, and they will wiggle around our watchful eyes and see this stuff. They've been doing it for a long time. For the past 3+ years, minors have been visually witnessing these things over the Net, and nothing has come of it.

    The problem with Net zoning is that age verification will be the keystone for the whole concept. All this hoopla about Internet privacy is going to be kind of moot if we have to verify our age to visit certain parts of cyberspace. In order to verify ages, you have to verify identities, and that will be stored somewhere. It will have to be accessible via the Internet. So it will be available for misuse.

    Personally, I think that the Netizens should govern themselves. We have done a pretty good job so far.