I would really like a legislature to go by without some sort of embarrassing technology bill being put forth. Despite my best hopes, it appears that this year isn’t it. Rep. Brad Daw has put forth a bill (largely written by the Chairman of SCO, a company that has it’s own disgraceful and embarrassing history) that seeks to heap a bunch of new requirements on free wireless Internet providers. Not only will it require filtering technology to prevent minors from accessing “harmful material”, it will also place some burdensome new labeling requirements on manufacturers of wireless networking equipment.
The reaction from the technical community has been swift and fierce. Pete Ashdown has lead the charge and indicated that if this bill passed, he would shut down the free wireless Internet access the company currently offers in downtown Salt Lake City and Liberty Park rather than be exposed to the tremendous legal risks this bill imposes. There’s a strong possibility that other providers of free Internet access, such as restaurants and Saturn of Salt Lake, may shut down the perk to avoid having to install expensive filtering software. I can’t blame any of them given how technically ignorant this bill is.
For starters, there is no way to tell who’s a minor and who’s an adult when they use the wireless access points. With the proliferation of debit and credit cards for minors, this has no longer become a valid indicator of being 18 or older. (I had a card under my parents’ account when I was a teenager so I could buy gas and run errands for them.) The proposal also entails new hardware and software to be installed which slows down connections and increases costs. Above all, our legislature has a history of “message bills” which leads me to believe that the definition of “harmful material” could change almost yearly, something that ISPs would have a hard time complying with.
I know the intent of this bill is good. Kids shouldn’t be looking at nudie pictures online and pornographers don’t seem to care what age their clientele are. That said, I doubt that most of this is going on around free wireless access points as opposed to within the home. How many minors really carry around a WiFi capable phone, laptop or PDA? Of those, how many are hopping onto free WiFi to look at porn? I’m guessing it’s a small enough number to be statistically insignificant.
This is a problem that doesn’t exist. Even if it did, it should be the responsibility of the parents to watch over their children. Have them install filtering software or, crazy idea, don’t give your kids WiFi devices. This is a social problem that can’t be fixed with legislation. If nothing else, parents will grow more lax because someone else is taking care of the problem.
I’ve already written Rep. Andersen and Sen. Neiderhauser to ask them to oppose this bill. So far, Sen. Niederhauser has written back to indicate that he also believes the bill is flawed and will likely vote NO on it. I encourage you to write your legislators to have them stand in opposition to this bill. And if you have spare time tomorrow around 3PM, drop by the Capitol Building (Beehive Room in the East Senate Building) to meet with Rep. Daw, Pete Ashdown and the Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, to discuss why you don’t support this bill.