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Shank proposes Net porn bill

March 05, 2003|by LARRY YANOS

laurae@herald-mail.com

A Washington County lawmaker argued Tuesday that Maryland should pass legislation to block access to child pornography Web sites.

But industry officials and a civil liberties group called Del. Christopher Shank's bill unconstitutional and said its technical requirements could crash the Internet.

Shank said he wants to protect families from having to view illegal child porn.

"The most perverse, deviant child pornography is just a few clicks away," Shank, R-Washington, told fellow members of the House Judiciary Committee. "This legislation is a way to attack child pornography where it festers, on the Internet."

Under Shank's bill, a Maryland resident who comes across an illegal site can report it to police, who then could get a court order forcing the person's Internet service provider to block access to the site within five days.

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Pennsylvania passed a similar law, which went into effect in April 2002.

John B. Morris Jr. of the Center for Democracy & Technology in Washington, D.C., testified that going after providers doesn't solve the problem of child pornography.

The best way to go after child pornography is to remove it from the host server, which could be anywhere in the world.

When individual Internet service providers attempt to block an offending Web site, they inadvertently freeze out dozens and even hundreds of other innocent sites, restricting their freedom of speech, Morris said.

Numerous blocking requests would slow Internet traffic, leading to Internet crashes, he said.

James J. Halpert, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represents the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association, suggested the bill be changed to require providers to remove child pornography only from their own servers.

But Bruce A. Taylor, president of the National Law Center for Children and Families, said that would weaken the bill.

He suggested giving Internet service providers three days' notice of a hearing before ordering them to block the child pornography and adding a clause requiring them to do it only if it is "technically feasible."

Shank said he will work with industry groups to make changes to the bill.

Representatives of two anti-pornography groups testified in favor of the legislation.

"The greatest concern we have is the children," said Eva Murphy of the Maryland Coalition Against Pornography.

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