by John Schwartz, The New York Times
One of the most thorough reports ever produced on protecting children
from Internet pornography has concluded there are no simple solutions to
"Though some might wish otherwise, no single approach -- technical,
legal, economic, or educational -- will be sufficient," wrote the authors
the report, "Youth, Pornography and the Internet," which was released
Thursday by the National Research Council. "Rather, an effective framework
for protecting our children from inappropriate materials and experiences
the Internet will require a balanced composite of all of these elements,
real progress will require forward movement on all of these fronts."
What might seem to a rather bland conclusion to a massive effort of
research and discussions with policymakers, educators, librarians, parents
and children and others in visits to schools and libraries around the nation
is actually a surprising stand, said Alan Davidson, associate director of
the Center for Democracy and Technology, a high-tech policy organization
"The report dares to be un-sexy," he said. "It does not call for
legislation to solve this problem," despite a strong push in Congress to
pass laws requring such technology tools as pornography filters in schools
and libraries. One such law, the Children's Internet Protection Act, is
currently being challenged in federal court by a coalition of librarians
civil liberties groups; a decision in that case is expected this month.
Recommending a broad approach "is not nearly as satisfying as passing
law or pointing to a technology," Mr. Davidson said, "but it is probably,
the long run, the most effective way to protect children online."
In fact, former attorney general Richard Thornburgh, who led the project,
predicted in a preface that its conclusions "will disappoint those who
expect a technological 'quick fix' to the challenge of pornography on the
The language of the report is meticulously balanced, but wryly
conclusive. Filters designed to block naughty sites, the report explained,
"can be highly effective in reducing the exposure of minors to inappropriate
content if the inability to access large amounts of appropriate material
An opponent of filtering said that she was pleased with the report.
Judith F. Krug, director of the American Library Association's office for
intellectual freedom, said she had only seen the executive summary of the
report, but applauded the committee's approach. "It's evenhanded," said
Krug, who testified before the committee. "It confirms the A.L.A.'s view
that protecting children online is complex, and it's going to demand complex
and varied solutions. In other words, filters are not going to be the
The report compared the problem of protecting children from online risks
to dealing with a more mundane hazard of daily life. "Swimming pools can
dangerous for children," the authors wrote. "To protect them, one can
install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All of these measures
are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one's
children is to teach them to swim."
Herbert Lin, the director of the study, said, "We think it's the most
comprehensive report that's ever been done" on the subject.
Even those who disagree with its conclusions agreed with that evaluation.
Bruce Taylor, the president and chief counsel of the National Law Center
Children and Families, said that the report will be the basic document for
judges and lawmakers approaching these issues for the forseeable future:
"This is going to be the topic of conversation, the book on the coffee
table, for the next two years," he said.
Mr. Taylor, who also testified before the committee, said he was
disappointed that the group did not make strong recommendations on
"techno-gizmos of their own," that he said might be developed, such as age
identifiers that would follow minors through cyberspace. Such ideas have
been criticized as impractical by Internet engineers, but Mr. Taylor said
that a strong push from the committee might have helped moving things
forward. "Parents can't create those protocols and protections, but how
would it be for industry to do it?" he asked.
Mr. Lin, echoing a statement by Mr. Thornburgh, said that the process
studying the issues shook the preconceptions that each participant brought
to the process. Many of the participants, he said, believed at the beginning
"if only people would just do this - whatever `this' is - the problem would
be all over. Nobody realized how complicated the process was," he said.
Mr. Taylor, said that despite his own disappointment in the conclusions
of the report, "It's at least going to be a truthful presentation of what
each side has been saying - so we can keep arguing about it."