Son of CDA

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Who should decide what's fit for kids to see online? If Rep. Mike Oxley has his way, says TIME correspondent Declan McCullagh, it will be "any Bible Belt prosecutor who's itching to make a name for himself." Oxley is the sponsor of the Internet decency act that was approved by a House Commerce subcommittee Thursday -- a bill that bears a striking resemblance to the 1996 Communications Decency Act that got the bum's rush from the Supreme Court, 9-0, for being unconstitutional. So what's Oxley -- who says this bill is "a more reasonable product" -- got going this time?

Not much, says McCullagh. "This is a feeble retread of what they tried in 1996," he says. "When is Congress going to learn they can't legislate morality? The courts laughed at the original CDA and they will at this one too." Although Oxley's "reasonable" modifications include targeting commercial, not private, web sites and aiming at content "harmful" to minors, instead of "patently offensive or indecent," he appears blithely indifferent to a host of issues his legislation would raise: Overseas sites, for example, which are beyond U.S. control. Or the lack of a national decency standard, which means any local jurisdiction could make up its own rules. Or the fact that there's no sure way to tell someone's age online. "Unless you make minors go around with an Internet ID that says 'I'm a kid' -- which would be great for pedophiles -- there's no way of verifying who you are," says McCullagh, who says the ACLU will challenge any such law as overbroad and vague. "Oxley and his allies may be saying it's reasonable, but their definition of reasonable is an unconstitutional one."