Vice President Gore, who as the administration’s biggest technology booster has forged close ties to the leaders of Silicon Valley, said Tuesday the Internet industry should lead the effort to protect children from cyberporn and online sexual predators.
Speaking at a conference focusing on children’s use of the Internet, Gore rejected calls from some conservative groups for a more assertive government role in safeguarding children from Internet smut.
But in an attempt to steer the middle ground, he also spurned those among civil libertarians who view as censorship any attempt to shield children from unsuitable material.
“We must meet this 21st-Century challenge in a 21st-Century way,” Gore said, “not by using the heavy hand of government in ways that would harm and squelch this exciting new resource and certainly not by ignoring the dangers and allowing our children to roam free and unsupervised on the Internet.
“Instead we should pursue a third way, an American way,” Gore said. “Allow the industry to lead with the help and guidance of government, advocacy groups and families.”
Gore, the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s year 2000 presidential nomination, has been acknowledged by President Clinton as the administration’s leader on technology issues. It was Gore, for instance, who is often credited as perhaps the earliest user of the phrase “information superhighway” to describe the Internet.
During his vice presidency, Gore has met monthly with chief executives of some of the nation’s leading high-tech companies, serving as the administration’s liaison to Silicon Valley. As such, Gore has been the main advocate within the White House for the industry-led approach to solving the cyberporn problem, administration observers said.
With growing public pressure to do more to protect children from online pedophiles and pornography, the Internet industry has chosen as its solution the development of software technology parents can use to block objectionable material.
Critics have said companies like America Online Inc. that serve as the gateway to the Internet for millions of Americans should do more on their own to block or remove obscene material.
But the Internet industry has declined, citing constitutional freedom-of-speech rights. They have insisted parents screen material for their children. Gore echoed that view, saying the use of blocking software was “not censoring. That’s called parenting.”
But he announced Internet service providers have agreed to help law enforcement officials crack down on those who traffic in Internet child pornography on their services in a “zero-tolerance” policy.
Steve Case, AOL chairman and chief executive officer, said “existing laws, we believe, give the law enforcement community all the teeth it needs to go aggressively after those who exploit the Net for criminal purposes, including child pornographers, predators, obscenity merchants, scam artists or others.
“When child pornography is appropriately brought to our attention and we have control over it, we will remove it,” Case said. “Subject to constitutional and statutory privacy safeguards, we will cooperate fully with law enforcement officials investigating child pornography on the Internet.”
xxxx FOR MORE INFORMATION Gore also announced a “Cybertip” line to report possible illegal online activity related to child pornography or predation (1-800-843-5678 or missingkids.com/cybertip). The line is sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Gore and Education Secretary Richard Riley said the government would help educate Internet users, starting with a free Internet guide for parents (available on the Internet at ed.gov/pubs/parents/ internet/ or by calling 1-800-USA-LEARN).