US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would like to be your parent. At least, he would like to act as though he was your parent.
Starting back in May 2008, Kirk has been singling out Second Life for special attention: he would like legislation to be introduced that prevents children from accessing Second Life– both the Teen Grid and the Main Grid (he makes no distinction), through public libraries and in schools.
On the surface, it sounds alright. We all want to protect the kiddies, right? Who is going to say an ill word against legislation that looks like it is designed to protect our children? But then you have to wonder: why should teenagers be excluded from a place designed especially for them? How will adults who want to access Second Life through libraries and schools do so?
There is no easy, cost-effective way to restrict access to content in public libraries and schools. Unless the Congressman wants to spend many more of the limited dollars already available to libraries and schools on solutions that would allow some people to access Second Life but not others, then Second Life would effectively not be available to anyone at these venues.
Legislation banning access for kids is not considered to be censorship – law that acts in place of parental control is often seen as advantageous.
Legislation that also functionally causes a service to be banned for adults is a bit stickier. It may not strictly constitute censorship, as the law would not state that adults are banned. However, functionally, censorship would be the end result.
Does it depend on the end result, or on the original intent, as to whether this is in fact a case of censorship?
For those who are not US citizens, here are the words of the First Amendment (1791):
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
This is the fundamental piece of law protecting US citizens from censorship. Formally, censorship is prior restraint of communication based on content and enforced by law. Censorship by the government is broadly unconstitutional.
What Kirk seems to be trying to achieve, intentionally or unintentionally, is an end-run around the constitution. There’s precedent for the State acting in loco parentis, but this sort of legislative restriction barring adults would never fly. Because it’s targeted at kids, and catches adults as collateral damage (something Kirk must have considered), it could squeak through to the detriment of everyone.
On another tack is this related idea, which to some extent makes the legislation pointless:
Thinking members of Congress, teachers and librarians have said that website filtering in the schools and libraries won’t protect kids because they aren’t finding predators in schools and libraries, but from their home computers that they surf alone in their rooms because they have nothing to do after school as many after school activities have been cut.
Perhaps a more useful way to spend Congress’ time and funds is:
- To put more effort into providing alternative activities for children after school
and, maybe even more importantly
- To put more effort into educating children about the use of services provided over the Internet.
An educated child is more likely to be self-monitoring. A restricted child is more likely to see excitement, danger and really wild things in those services that have been restricted.
So, what do you think? Is this legislation “in loco parentis”? Or just plain loco?