Gore to Unveil Internet Safeguards
By Ceci Connolly and John Schwartz
Gore said the accord he negotiated with industry executives will make it easier for parents to keep their children's online explorations safe.
"It's a mistake to settle on any single cause of the tragedy in Littleton," he said in a brief interview last night. "But people with common sense have come to broad agreement there are several factors that must be addressed if we are going to be serious about changes necessary to honor the memory of those who were killed. One of them clearly is the need to protect children against inappropriate Internet sites."
The package of resources includes safety tips, a guide to child-friendly sites and tools for searching the Internet. The companies will also offer links to makers of "filtering" software that blocks objectionable material and of programs that monitor where children go online and set time limits on Internet surfing.
None of these technologies is new -- the hot line and parents' guide to the Internet were announced by Gore in December 1997. But few parents know they exist or how to use them. The purpose of the new initiative is to place such resources "one click away" from popular Web sites.
Noting that the vice president is a computer-literate politician who passed much of the legislation making today's computer networks possible, Gore's strategists argue that his extensive knowledge of technology issues will be an asset in the first presidential election of the millennium.
But he has had trouble capitalizing on that role, earning widespread ridicule for an early claim he "created" the Internet. Yesterday, he was eager to trumpet the relatively minor announcement, offering interviews to The Washington Post and the Associated Press.
Still, polls hint there may be a risk to Gore's high-profile attachment to the Internet and other emerging technologies. A national survey released yesterday by the Annenberg Public Policy Center suggests a national love/hate relationship with the online world: 59 percent of parents said that children without Internet access were at a disadvantage, but 49 percent said using the Internet might interfere with their ability to teach values and beliefs.
And while an overwhelming majority see the Internet as a place "for children to discover fascinating, useful things," an equally large number worry youngsters will be exposed to sexually explicit material or give out personal information online.
"Parents are juggling the dream and the nightmare of the Internet at the same time," Joseph Turow, author of the Annenberg report, said in a statement.
Gore's efforts are the most visible piece of an initiative that cuts across several agencies. Federal Communications Commission Chairman William E. Kennard yesterday announced a Parents, Kids and Communications section on the FCC Web site that points visitors to technologies that can help protect children from objectionable material on the Internet, television and telephone 900 lines.
He said schools and libraries using federal discounts to connect to the Internet should develop "acceptable use policies" -- an idea also floated in legislation before Congress. Most of all, Kennard said, government needs to help empower parents.
"Parents -- the people who know their children best -- need to be the ones to make these decisions, not people sitting in Washington."
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