March 31st, 2004

Internet Lists Pose Risk to Kids

Battle Creek (MI) Enquirer

THE ISSUE: Proposed federal legislation that would prohibit corporations from
selling personal information about anyone under age 16 for commercial marketing
purposes.

WE THINK: Such legislation is necessary not only to shield our children from
an onslaught of commercial solicitations online, but also to protect them from
child molesters and others who might use such lists for evil purposes.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Tell us what you think. Information on how to publish your
ideas appears with ‘Readers’ Views’ at right.

EDITORIAL

Most parents are aware of inappropriate material available on the Internet and
take steps to shield their children from things such as pornography, graphic
violence and unsavory chat rooms.

But they may not be aware that their children’s names, addresses and ages are
readily available to anyone willing to purchase an online commercial marketing
list. In some cases, the information goes beyond the basics to detailed personal
facts.

While the lists are intended for businesses seeking to market to specific age
groups, they are available to anyone willing to pay.

Parents should have the ability to safeguard their young children against an
onslaught of commercial solicitations over the Internet, as well as protect
them from child molesters and others with evil intentions who might utilize
online commercial marketing lists for their own sinister purposes.

That’s why we support federal legislation introduced this month by U.S. Sens.
Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, that would prohibit corporations
from selling personal information regarding anyone under 16 years of age for
commercial marketing purposes without parental consent.

Not only would the Wyden/Stevens legislation help limit the commercial exploitation
of young children, it also would help to ensure that kids’ personal information
is not widely available to people who might want to harm them.

The bill specifically addresses information used for commercial purposes and
would not affect transfer of information for things like scholarship opportunities
or tracking the spread of a disease. Is it an absolutely foolproof method to
keep our children’s personal information from being available online? No, but
it would at least help prevent it from being so easily available that a Portland,
Ore., television station, using the name of a man suspected of murdering two
young girls in Oregon, could buy a list of more than 3,000 children’s names
and addresses online.

The Internet does have some special privacy protections for children, such
as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Children’s Online Privacy
Protection Act. But such laws do not cover privacy invasion by commercial list
brokers.

The thought that anyone can go online and purchase a list with hundreds or
thousands of children’s names, ages and addresses is alarming. The thought of
how such lists could be used is even more frightening.

Preventing the online dissemination of such information for people under age
16 is an important step in helping to keep our children safe.

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