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ISTTF Thierer Closing Statement

ISTTF Thierer Closing Statement

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Published by Adam Thierer
Final statement of Adam Thierer, senior fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation, regarding the Internet Safety Technical Task Force (ISTTF), which was run by the Berkman Center at Harvard University.
Final statement of Adam Thierer, senior fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation, regarding the Internet Safety Technical Task Force (ISTTF), which was run by the Berkman Center at Harvard University.

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Published by: Adam Thierer on Jan 14, 2009
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06/14/2009

 
 January 14, 2009
Statement of
Adam ThiererThe Progress & Freedom Foundation
Regarding the Internet Safety Technical Task Force’sFinal Report to the Attorneys General
[
This statement is an elaboration of a 1-page statement submitted to the Internet Safety Technical Task Force as part of its final report to the U.S. Attorneys General who authorized its creation. Adam Thierer served as a member of the Task Force, which issued its final report to the Attorneys General on December 31, 2008.
]It has been a privilege to serve on the Internet Safety Technical Task Force(ISTTF) and I believe that both our work and our final report represent a major stepforward in the discussion about online child safety.
1
Like past blue-ribbon commissionsthat have studied this issue, the ISTTF has generally concluded there is no silver-bullettechnical solution to online child safety concerns. The better way forward is a “layeredapproach” to online child protection, or what I like to call “the 3-E approach” to onlinesafety:
2
 
 
Education and mentoring 
is the most essential part of the solution. We can, andmust, do more as parents and as a society to guide our children’s behavior andchoices online.
 
Empowerment 
is also essential, however. We can provide parents with more andbetter tools to make informed decisions about media and communications toolsin their lives and the lives of their children. But technical tools can onlysupplement—they can never supplant—education, parental guidance, and bettermentoring.
1
 
Enhancing Child Safety & Online Technologies,
Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Forceto the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of United States Attorneys General, TheBerkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, December 31, 2008 [hereinafter after:“Final Report of the ISTTF”].
2
I have detailed this approach in an ongoing PFF special report:
Parental Controls & Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods 
(Washington, D.C.: The Progress & Freedom Foundation,Version 3.1, Fall 2008),www.pff.org/parentalcontrols 1
 
 
Enforcement 
is also part of the equation. We need to make sure that lawenforcement officials have the resources they need to carry out the importanttask of protecting children from legitimate online threats.Generally speaking, this is also the approach thatmany other child safety expertsand authors have taken when addressing these issues.
3
 
The Dangers of Mandatory Age Verification
After reading the ISTTF’s final report, some policymakers may feel that weshould have done more to work through the details of age verification as a solution toonline safety concerns. In the months leading up to the ISTTF’s formation, severalattorneys general (AGs) had stated that they believed age verification might be aneffective means of dealing with concerns about online predation on social networkingsites (SNS). Consequently, some of them may be disappointed that the ISTTF didn’trecommend mandatory age verification as solution.But if the ISTTF had one failing—and this would really be the only one—it wasthat
we did not go far enough in illustrating why mandatory age verification willnot work and how age verification will actually make kids
less 
safe online
.Mandatory age verification represents a dangerous solution to concerns aboutonline child safety because it:
 
Won’t Work:
Mandatory age verification will not work as billed. For the reasonsdetailed below, it will fail miserably and create more problems than it will solve.
 
Will Create a False Sense of Security:
Because it will fail, mandatory ageverification will create a false sense of security for parents and kids alike. It willlead them to believe they are entering “safe spaces” simply because someonehas said users are “verified.”
 
Is Not a Background Check:
Moreover, even if age verification did work asbilled, it is important to realize it is not synonymous with a complete backgroundcheck. In other words, even if the verification process gets the
age 
part of theprocess right, that tells us little else about the person being verified.
3
See, for example: Nancy E. Willard,
Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy 
 
Teens 
(San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007),www.cskcst.com; Larry Magid and Anne Collier,
MySpace Unraveled: A Parent’s Guide to Teen Social Networking 
(Berkeley, CA: Peachtree Press, 2007),www.myspaceunraveled.com; SharonMiller Cindrich,
e-Parenting: Keeping Up with Your Tech-Savvy Kids 
(New York: Random HouseReference, 2007),www.pluggedinparent.com; Jason Illian,
MySpace, MyKids: A Parent's Guide to Protecting Your Kids and Navigating MySpace.com 
(Eugene, OR; Harvest House Publishers, 2007);Linda Criddle,
Look Both Ways: Help Protect Your Family on the Internet 
(Redmond, WA: MicrosoftPress, 2006),http://look-both-ways.com/about/toc.htm; Gregory S. Smith,
How to Protect Your Children on the Internet: A Road Map for Parents and Teachers 
(Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007),www.gregoryssmith.com.2
 
 
Is a Grave Threat to Privacy:
Mandatory age verification is dangerous becauseit would require that even more personal information (about kids, no less) be putonline at a time when identity theft and privacy violations continue to be a majorconcern.
 
Will Seriously Misallocate Resources:
Devising and enforcing age verificationregulations might also divert valuable time and resources that could be betterused to focus on education and awareness-building efforts, especially K-12online safety and media literacy education. Moreover, it might divert lawenforcement energy and resources away from policing serious crimes or morelegitimate threats to children.
10 Questions about Age Verification that the AGs Must Answer
To the extent some policymakers persist in this pursuit of a technological HolyGrail, they must specifically address the ten following problems with mandatory ageverification regulation, which I believe explain why it will fail to protect children online:1)
The Risk Mismatch Problem
 The ISTTF’s Research Advisory Board has shown that the primary online safetyissue today is peer-on-peer cyber-harassment, not adult predation. Mandatory ageverification would do nothing to stop cyberbullying. Indeed, the lack of adult supervisionmay even exacerbate the problem.2)
The Non-Commercial Speech Problem
 Age verification schemes
may 
work for
some 
commercial websites wheretransactions require the transfer of funds, goods, or services. Age verification may alsowork in those contexts (i.e., online dating services) where users
want 
to be verified soothers know more about them. But most social networking sites (SNS) are non-commercial and users do not want to divulge too much personal information. This willsignificantly complicate AV efforts.3)
The Data Matching / Processing Problem (i.e., the “Initial Enrollment” Problem)
 Online age verification efforts will likely break down first at the
initial enrollment 
stage.
4
Because little data exists to verify minors, age verification simply won’t work forsites where adults and minors coexist, or to keep adults out of “child-only” sites. Unlesswe want to force every child to carry a mandatory national ID card—which seems likean extreme and potentially dangerous solution—there isn’t an effective way of handlingthe initial authentication process.
4
I am indebted to Jeff Schmidt for the useful distinction between the initial enrollment and subsequentvisit problems with online age verification. See: Jeff Schmidt, “Online Child Safety: A SecurityProfessional’s Take,”
The Guardian 

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