Sponsored by: This story appeared on Network World Fusion at http://www.nwfusion.com/columnists/2002/0520bradner.html 'Net Insider: Did you expect an easy answer? By Scott Bradner Network World, 05/20/02 After almost two years of work and thinking, the National Research Council just published its extensive study "Youth, Pornography and the Internet." The report will undoubtedly disappoint some people in Congress, which requested the study, and pundits galore because it couldn't any technical ways to reliably protect young folks against the dirty bits of the Internet. Nor could it suggest any way to address the problem by passing new laws. The 15-member committee, tersely called the "Committee to Study Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids from Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content," that produced the report was chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. The committee members, as is always the case with NRC committees, came to their deliberations with widely different assumptions on what could be done. This result is just what many of us worried about protecting kids with Internet access expected. The more you know about the problem, technology, society and people, the less tractable it becomes. The committee started by trying to understand just how different people define pornography and what they view as inappropriate for children. The group also looked for any scientific research that would show specific dangers to kids from particular types of content. The committee also examined Internet technology, the operation and potential of technical protection systems such as content filters, the possibility of creating warning signs in the domain name system (such as a .xxx top-level domain) and the constraints on potential solutions created by the restrictions on restrictions imposed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The group even looked at the economics of pornography. Some of the same issues apply when corporations decide they would like to limit employee access to classes of Internet material (or as one such company spokesman once told me, "We are protecting our employees, and they like that." He did not answer when I asked if the employees had been asked for their opinion). But as a general rule, corporations have no equivalent to the First Amendment in their employee contracts. In the end, the NRC committee concluded that: "Though some might wish otherwise, no single approach - technical, legal, economic or educational - will be sufficient. Rather, an effective framework for protecting our children from inappropriate materials and experiences on the Internet will require a balanced composite of all of these elements, and real progress will require forward movement on all of these fronts." In other words, no magic bullet, or even a set of magic bullets, is waiting to be discovered to slay these dragons. Such a shock - there is no simple technical solution to a complex social problem. Disclaimer: Although Harvard does not have a school for magic bullets, it does have a Sociology Department that I did not consult for this column. Related Links Youth, Pornography and the Internet All contents copyright 1995-2002 Network World, Inc. http://www.nwfusion.com