Here's a three-question interview with Beth Yoke, who testified before Congress today on behalf of libraries. Beth is the Executive Director, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), American Library Association.
You can see a video of yesterday's hearing on DOPA [Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006] before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, July 11, 2006. You need Real Player and a high speed connection. Beth speaks at about 1 hr 27 min into the 2 1/2 hour recording. More on DOPA here.
Minow: How would you describe the atmosphere at the hearing?
Yoke: I would describe the atmosphere at the hearing as one of fear. So much of the talk was about how there are untold numbers of would-be murders out there just waiting to snare our children via chat rooms and other Internet sites.
Minow: What is the central issue for libraries?
Yoke: The central issue for libraries regarding DOPA is education. Libraries need to ramp up their efforts to provide Internet & information literacy education and safety programs for kids, teens, parents and caregivers. If people were more well informed about what social networking sites are and knew & used basic Internet safety tips, this cloud of fear may disperse. Also, if library users were more well informed about the far reaching effects DOPA may have on their personal lives if passed, then they may be more willing to join librarians in the fight against it.
Minow: What actions do you recommend that library folks take?
Yoke: Librarians and library workers should contact their representives in the House by phone or fax. They should share with them: 1) positive examples of how social networking sites are used safely for both educational and recreational purposes, 2) information about what their library is doing to teach kids & parents information literacy and internet safety skills. Librarians and library workers should also encourage kids, teens and parents to contact their House representatives and tell them personal stories about how they have benefitted from having free Internet access in their libraries and how social networking sites may have enhanced their lives. Librarians and library workers also need to educate the public about the vital role they play in helping people use the Internet effectively and safely.
That's my 2 cents.
Beth attached her written and oral testimony, as well as a YALSA document on social networking sites and libraries that ALA submitted as part of the official records.
Note: Patrick Murphy, Democratic opponent to DOPA's Michael Fitzpatrick, has developed an alternative to DOPA. Murphy's blog today says that teachers, law enforcement officials, parents and librarians joined to endorse his "Murphy Plan for Online Protection" or MOPA. See continuation for full text of MOPA.
Our Children First, Politics Second
By Patrick Murphy
Our children need Congress’s help. As Internet use grows, so does the vulnerability of kids to predators and pedophiles. This isn’t an issue for Republicans or Democrats – this is a bipartisan issue in need of a bipartisan solution. Our children need real leadership and real action – not rhetoric and election year gimmicks. That’s why I’m proposing the Murphy Plan for Online Protection: a real plan with real solutions to a serious problem.
As a former prosecutor, I understand what law enforcement needs to get the job done. As the Internet grows, we need to provide law enforcement with the tools necessary to catch and prosecute these horrible criminals. If I were elected to Congress, I would dramatically increase funding and resources for local law enforcement to work with groups that catch on-line predators and put them behind bars. We don’t just need warnings anymore – we need action.
Second, I would require that site-blocking software be prominently displayed and freely downloadable on all sites where predators might attempt to lure our children. This would help all parents protect their kids at home, where most children access the Internet. We need to make sure ever child is protected – not just the ones using computers at school and in the library.
Finally, I would make it illegal for any person convicted of using a computer to commit a sex crime to access the Internet, so we could send them straight back to jail – much the way we currently do with convicted hackers. If we get tough with predators on both ends of the Internet, our children will be better protected.
Now, as many of you know, Congressman Fitzpatrick introduced a bill last week called "The Deleting Online Predators Act." Here is what you probably don't know: "the problem with DOPA is that it may do little to actually ensure safety," and that it may actually "make our children less safe." Those are the words of Anne Collier, co-founder of BlogSafety.com and Ann Davis, an instruction technology specialist at Georgia State University.
It seems our Congressman is involved in the typical Washington game of putting out nice sounding legislation that could make the problem worse, not better, and leaves the dangerous impression that he's actually doing something to protect children. But it’s time to change the way we do business in Washington DC.
Let me be clear. The most important job of any government is to protect its citizens, and especially our children.
Fitzpatrick's bill makes two suggestions: create another website advising parents of danger and partially block children’s access in schools and libraries. This won’t get the job done.
First, websites like Fitzpatrick proposes currently exist. For example, you can check out the Federal Trade Commissions website at www.FTC.gov and read either "Social Networking Sites: A Parent's Guide" (pdf) or "Social Networking Sites: Safety Tips for Tweens and Teens." (pdf)
Second, Fitzpatrick’s bill requires that schools and libraries install filters to block certain websites. Under laws signed by President Clinton, libraries are already required to block sites deemed harmful to minors; these social networking sites are no exception. In fact, all schools and libraries in Bucks County already block these networking sites. Also, this doesn’t do nearly enough to stop kids from accessing these sites at home or at their friend’s homes, where most children use the Internet in the first place. This time, facts get in the way of Fitzpatrick’s sound byte.
Parents already have some of the resources they need to fight child predators on the Internet – but they need our help. The problem is one of hunting and prosecuting sexual predators. We need to offer law enforcement new programs and new funding so that they, too, can adapt to the technology. That way, we can guarantee the police will always be one step ahead of these sexual predators.
As a former prosecutor and son of a cop, I understand the need to catch and prosecute anyone who would dare compromise our children’s safety. By following the Murphy Plan for Online Protection, we can give law enforcement the tools they need to catch these predators, and give parents the tools they need to keep their kids safe. We need to change the way Washington does business, by pursuing real action, and we need to do it today, because it’s time we put our children’s safety first.