Monday, September 25, 2006

Old tricks for cyberparents

TONIGHT’S double-story feature, dear boys, is about Lawless and Hopeless.

Let’s call the duo “Double B” because—big and bad—these wolves gobble up children. Skinny and bald, Lawless roams freely because no Philippine law penalizes online child pornographers.

Fat and slow, Hopeless waddles never far behind, aided by police who go through a darned time first catching and then keeping in jail folks with a bad taste for childflesh.

In Neil Gaiman fashion, what makes these creatures from Hell truly nightmarish is not that they nurse their tans while flashing yellow canines at babies playing with sand in some sun-drenched faraway shore. Lawless and Hopeless, dear boys, are also called “Double B” because, like “bed-and-breakfast” tourists, they live amongst us in our Internet-enabled homes.

According to Sun.Star Cebu reports, last week’s Visayas conference on “Building Alliances to Combat Child Pornography” highlighted problems hobbling enforcers from going after the estimated 50 to 75 cybersex dens operating in the country. The absence of a law to lack of forensic experts and laboratories points out the need to get the public to help out in the campaign to protect children and minors from cybercriminals.

After an alleged cybersex operator was arrested in Lapu-Lapu City recently, local authorities now focus on measures regulating Internet cafés, from requiring adult guardians for minors to putting up glass walls in private rooms.

Attempting to regulate the Internet, many governments ended up, if not exactly the equivalent of cybersentinels, at least like NetPretzels, twisted out of shape from trying to classify and regulate all the content in the worldwide web, not to mention the “hidden web” (a reference to limited-access sites).

According to timesonline, the British Board of Film Classification proposed this June a “classification scheme for websites that would provide parents with more information about whether sites are appropriate for their children.”

Freedom of speech campaigners criticized the proposal, calling it “the most stupid intervention since the registration of fax machines and photocopiers in communist China,” quoted timesonline.

In December 2000, the United States Congress enacted a federal law known as the Children’s Internet Protection Act. Cipa requires schools and libraries receiving state funds for Internet access to adopt “Internet safety policy and technology protection measures” that will block access to web materials that are “obscene, pornographic or harmful to children.”

Cipa covers only public computers used by children; the filters can be disabled for an adult who wants to view restricted sites for “bona fide research or other lawful purposes.” The law does not also “require the tracking of Internet use by minors or adults.”

What can complement the state’s efforts to rein in the Internet?

According to timesonline, readers assert it is the parents’ responsibility to make the computer safe for their children. They can buy software filters that block access to sexual content.

For instance, NetNanny has aided since 2001 parental efforts to block adult web sites, as well as those containing abusive and hate-filled language.

But in 2003 the Australian Broadcast Authority (ABA) removed NetNanny 4.0 from its endorsed list of Internet filters after the software failed to block pornographic sites “38 per cent of the time.”

NetNanny was then used by all three of Australia's largest Internet providers, according to Another filter that failed the test was Norton Internet Security, with a flunking rate of 25 percent. This is widely used locally.

A dinosaur compared to my Internet-savvy sons, I put my faith in regulating computer use and shooing them away from the monitor to read, play and sweat the old-fashioned way. In this age of the Internet police and NetNanny, nothing beats the might of a paranoid parent.

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