Child protection bill could harm newspapers
WASHINGTON, D.C.–A Senate bill introduced in late March could expose a newspaper to legal liability if someone accuses the newspaper of publishing information that is used to harm a child, according to opponents of the measure.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the “Children’s Privacy Protection and Parental Empowerment Act of 1997” to regulate direct mailings to children. Proposed as a way to protect children from pedophiles, the bill prohibits the distribution of personal information about children younger than 16 without parental consent.
The bill would prohibit the distribution of any personal information about a child, if the sender knows or has reason to believe the information will be used to abuse or physically harm the child.
List brokers, who would be specifically forbidden to sell information about children, would be required to provide any parent or legal guardian who requested it with a list of all those to whom they sold information about the parent’s child as well as the content of that information.
In a statement, Feinstein cited a case where a Los Angeles reporter identified herself as Richard Allen Davis, Polly Klass’ murderer, and used other false and fictitious information to purchase specific information about 5,500 children in a particular neighborhood from a private list broker. When ordering the list, the broker’s representative told the reporter she had a famous name and sent the information C.O.D.
Opponents of the bill have argued that a ban on direct mail to children could impede the distribution of information about scholarship and financial aid programs, educational and career opportunities as well as children’s book clubs and youth organizations. Newspapers could be affected by this legislation if someone were to charge that a crime committed against a child was facilitated by information obtained from the paper, according to opponents of the bill, who are primarily list brokers.
For example, George Chamberlain, the Minnesota prison inmate who has been charged with accessing the Internet through a prison computer to collect and trade child pornography, compiled his original annotated list of children from articles in local newspapers.
The bill, cosponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Virtually identical bills were previously introduced by Feinstein and Boxer in late June 1996 and by Rep. Bob Franks (R-N.J.) in late May 1996. They were referred to the Judiciary Committee, but were not enacted. (S. 504)