Why I do *not* support Family PC’s Parent’s Bill of Rights

When was it that everyone started to talk about
rights, and forgot all about responsibilities?

[A note from the future, in 2017. I was right. I didn’t get more conservative, and they grew up safe and awesome. One’s editing movies. The other’s working QA at a robotics company. Let’s hear it for sensible parenting.]

Kee's kids--A long time ago
Before I begin, let me set
some context. I’m a parent, I have two terminally cute daughters; one six, the
other four. I’ve heard that the number one correlation between sexual conservatism
and other factors is whether a person has daughters. Maybe things will be different
when they reach adolescence, but so far my values haven’t changed.

So now we have had a
everyone’s talking about how to protect the rights of
parents on the internet.
This is apparently something that greatly concerns many parents,
from a reading of the statistics,
I can only assume that it’s primarily a concern of parents who are
on the internet, since those that are, aren’t even using the available
tools. But I don’t mean to belittle the core desire–parents
want to make sure that children’s exposure to new concepts and people is
consistent with their beliefs, whether that exposure is on the internet, the
street, or the corner store.

And that’s the fundamental issue I have with all this ruckus. The
internet doesn’t exist as a thing, it isn’t something that’s safe or not
safe. The internet is a community of people, and the things you
have to teach your kids in this community are the same as the things you teach
them in your own. Be polite, don’t interrupt, don’t speak unless
you have something to say, stay away from the seamier parts of town, and of
course, don’t go off alone with strangers. Those are values I try and teach my
kids. If I haven’t gotten them across by the time they learn to
send email, it’s probably too late anyway. But these values are not
specific to
the internet–I expect them to be applied online, and down at the
coffee shop.

I think I know where things went wrong. Some parents thought that if
their kid was staying home in front of the computer, that they were safe
and could be left alone–just like when they were sitting in front
of the television. They were wrong of course, the two mediums are not
comparible–there is far more violence and sex on television.

But on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. What good does it do to teach
your kids right from wrong, if someone can pretend to be a teenage soulmate,
when they are actually a lecherous old man? There is some validity in this,
but frankly, anyone who has spent much time in online communities very quickly
learns that identity is both central to, and yet completely apart from, the
online experience. I spent my freshman year in college hooked on “the con”,
as it was called by those of us with access to
Time Sharing System
years before AOL’s forums and IRC. We all knew
the story of the guy that gets all excited about this great girl he’s been chatting
with for hours, only to walk over to his roommate’s cubby to tell him the news–and
find out he’s been chatting with him all this time. The notion of an
online identity, or identities, that is separate from your physical one is fundamental
to the system–our children will understand that long before their parents.
This isn’t the dark side of the internet, this is one of the liberating things
about the internet. (Note that having multiple identities is not the same as
being anonymous, I’ll talk more about that some other time–if you want some
mandatory reading on that subject, check out “The Transparent Society : Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between
Privacy and Freedom”
by David Brin.)

“But…,” (says my wife), “it is different, you think they
are safe because they are in the house. With other communities, you know where
they are.” Well, one can hope, but the teen
rate in the U.S. would seem to argue otherwise. The fact of the
matter is that, the older your kids get, the less control you have over them.
That’s why I see this whole thing very differently. This isn’t an issue of parent’s
rights, it’s a question of parent’s responsibilities, and that’s
a word that seems to be very much out of favor recently. All the internet is
doing is bringing home that our job as parents is not to control, but to guide.

Here is FamilyPC’s “Internet Bill of Rights” proposal, with my responses. They asked if they
could publish by responses, so if you see it in a physical copy, let me
know which issue.

  1. Parental blocking software should be integrated into every Internet

    Including experimental
    ones? Ones meant for developer use only? Ones running on PDAs that
    have the necessary memory or CPU? No. If the demand is there, the
    will provide it. Protection of children is the responsibility of
    the parent,
    not something that can be regulated.
  2. Web site creators must
    rate their
    sites in an industry-standard way that is recognizable by the browser
    (for now this means using RSACi or SafeSurf or PICS).

    Aside from being
    unenforcable, there is no need to do this. If people stop going to
    sites, then sites will rate themselves. The fact of the matter is the
    majority of sites that rate themselves are adult sites–they don’t
    minors on their sites. The rest of sites don’t have the time or
    to rate themselves.
  3. An arbitration board should be created to
    discrepancies in site ratings.

    That implies that ratings have the
    of law. Ratings are going to be relative my definition. An independent
    board cannot be created to legislate free speech. If we were
    talking about
    signs on a front yard, this wouldn’t stand up in court for a

  4. Webmasters who do not comply with voluntary ratings should not be
    on the major search services.

    Absolutely not. This restricts adult
    to sites, never mind access to sites outside of the United States.
    engines are already beginning to offer alternative, rated-only search
    facilities. There is no need to legislate this.
  5. Children’s chat
    will be monitored to keep them safe; monitoring can be human or

    If you are worried about what your children say to whom, then
    them. Don’t forget to tape phone conversations and follow them to the
    school bathroom as well. Chat room monitoring is neither practical or
  6. Web sites must fully disclose what they do with
    collected from people who register at their sites.

    This is a
    general issue
    that has nothing to do with the specific issue you are addressing
  7. Advertising must be clearly labeled as advertising and kept
    from editorial content.

  8. If online shopping is involved,
    must require parental permission prior to purchase. Parents will be
    to cancel an order mistakenly sent by a minor at no charge to the

    The standards here should be the same as they are anywhere else.
    Use of
    a credit card is deemed to be an indication of adult status.
  9. If an
    advertiser communicates with a child by e-mail, the parent should
    be notified
    and should have the option, with each mailing, to discontinue

    If you want to disallow communications with children by advertisers, I
    might consider that a good goal. However, “on the internet no one
    your a dog”. It’s impossible to tell whether you are communicating
    a child on the internet. As for the ability to remove yourself from
    mailings–go for it, but this is a general issue, not one specific to
    children’s/parent’s rights.
    Frankly I find the whole concept of a
    Bill of Rights” to be misguided. First we need to construct a Parent’s
    Bill of Responsibilities. For the past 15 years my closing email
    has been the same. And every year I feel it is more and more
    “I’m not sure which upsets me more; that people are so unwilling to
    responsibility for their actions, or that they are so eager to
    everyone else’s.”