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House Bill Seeks to Ban Teens From Social Networking Sites

A Pennsylvania congressman has introduced legislation that would ban minors from accessing social networking Web sites such as MySpace, and forbid libraries from making such access available.

The bill, known as the "Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006," was introduced Wednesday in the House by Michael G. Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., a first-term representative. The bill has also been labeled as H.R. 5319, a Fitzpatrick representative said Thursday.

However, the bill uses extremely broad language to define a "social networking" site, which would theoretically eliminate several Ziff-Davis Web sites, as well as other highly-trafficked Web sites across the Internet.

"Sites like Myspace and Facebook have opened the door to a new online community of social networks between friends, students and colleagues," Fitzpatrick said in a statement posted to his Web site. "However, this new technology has become a feeding ground for child predators that use these sites as just another way to do our children harm."

H.R. 5319 forms part of the Republican Surburban Agenda, part of a multi-bill initiative supported by the Speaker of the House, J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. To date, the Agenda encompasses seven bills, ranging from one permitting 401(k) accounts to be begun at birth, to an act that would set down guidelines to prevent schools hiring pedophiles, to acts that would manage farmland and open space.

The "Deleting Online Predators Act" would also require the FCC to publish a sort of annual blacklist of "commercial social networking Web sites and chat rooms that have been shown to allow sexual predators easy access to personal information of, and contact with, children."

Within the bill, the definition of "social networking site" is left somewhat vague.

In an effort to prevent minors from viewing child pornography, the bill would bar minors from accessing a social networking site, defined as one that "allows users to create Web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users; and offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, e-mail, or instant messenger."

The language of the bill, however, may still be modified before it is formally voted upon.

"It still has to go through a tough markup process," Jeff Urbanchuk, Fitsgerald's press secretary, told PC Magazine. "It's only 72 hours old, you know."

The second key definition of the Deleting Online Predators Act, "chat room," is defined more conventionally. "'[C]hat rooms' means Internet Web sites through which a number of users can communicate in real time via text and that allow messages to be almost immediately visible to all other users or to a designated segment of all other users."

The bill would also create an eight-member advisory board to the FCC, which would be staffed by four members of the private sector, with the remaining members drawn from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Crimes Against Children Research Center, school boards, and primary and secondary school educators, respectively.

Finally, the bill would require the government to set up a Web site warning of the dangers of social networking.

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