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Kids' Phone Safety Blog

Child Online Protection Measures across the States of America

August 12, 2015
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Nowadays it is impossible for a child to get good education, move ahead in life and connect with the broader world without the Internet. It lets kids succeed in different spheres bypassing obstacles caused by social status, physical possibilities, temperament, age etc.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance for them to have a possibility to go online at homes, in schools and libraries.

However, such universal availability has its own cons that sometimes even outweigh the pros. Thanks to the Internet children are exposed to inappropriate and potentially harmful content, be it intentionally or not, and can become victims of online predators.

Due to its scale, this issue demands top-down solutions. As of today, we have laws enacted by the Government of the United States – COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) and CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) – that are aimed at child online protection.

Laws Protecting Kids Online

COPPA requires websites (operating under USA jurisdiction, running on servers that are hosted in the USA or operating by businesses with headquarters located in the USA territory) to obtain permission from parents or guardians of kids under the age of 13 before collecting their personal data – a Verifiable Parental Consent (VPC).

Before the adults can grant it, they must be “verified” using a method approved by the Federal Trade Commission. The sites are obliged to show a privacy notice explaining what types of personal information are collected, how it is used and stored, and whether the third parties have access to it. Those who are responsible for kids have to be able to determine, review and delete the data regarding the latter.

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Worth mentioning, that schools do not fall under COPPA because this act does not apply to information collected by nonprofits serving educational purposes or to information collected by state governments.

CIPA requires schools and libraries that receive federal funds for discounted telecommunications, Internet access, or internal connections services to adopt an Internet safety policy and employ technological protections that block or filter certain visual depictions that are obscene, pornographic, or harmful to minors.

In addition, there are also state laws that complement these acts. Twenty-five states have Internet filtering laws that apply to publicly funded schools or libraries. In most of them, school boards/districts or public libraries are only required to adopt Internet use policies to prevent minors from gaining access to inappropriate materials. Some states also require publicly funded institutions to install filtering software on public access computers.

Rules in different States

While almost all the laws have common requirements, in different states, they do or do not establish disciplinary measures for violators, are or are not applied to both public schools and libraries, and can include additional points.

For instance, in Utah, public libraries are allowed to block materials that are not specified in the state bill; in Ohio, schools are required to provide free filtering devices or software to students who work from home; in Delaware the minor’s parent or guardian must specify the level of access to the Internet the minor may have in public libraries.

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There are also other related state laws that address Internet service providers: for example, in Nevada, they are obliged to offer, under certain circumstances, products or services that enable subscribers to regulate and monitor a child’s use of the Internet.

Besides child personal data protection issue, there is also another online threat for kids – cyberbullying. There is no respective law on a national scale, so every state develops its own, but, as experience has shown, cannot keep up with the technologies moving forward.

It also took a number of cases, including suicides, to bring the issue to the attention of many states’ legislatures. And, as of January 2016, only 23 out of 50 states separately identify cyberbullying as a form of bullying and only 18 states propose criminal sanction for it.

Ironically, the alleged infringement the First Amendment rights that guarantee the freedom of expression is often among the obstacles for implementing proper sanctions for cyberbullying. Lawmakers are forced to either limit constitutional rights, or leave things as they are.

The bottom line

As we can see, a lot has been done and a lot is yet to be created and improved in child online protection legislation. Although many of risks children face online are the digital extension of existing offline threats, we cannot successfully use the same methods for their prevention in the virtual world.

There is still no clear determination for harmful information for minors, websites can easily shift the responsibility for viewing its content to the kids by displaying pro forma pop-ups, and online abusers can escape their punishment. However, it does not mean that there are no other ways to protect kids on the Internet.

Besides states’ regulatory instruments, there are different possibilities for preventing the unwanted spread of the kids’ private data and cyberbullying provided by non-profit and commercial organizations, parental control and anonymous reporting software.

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