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More nanny-statism

Posted by Richard on March 14, 2007

A nanny is someone who watches after your children on your behalf, right? Well, according to the Christian Science Monitor, there's a growing movement to make many states more literally into nanny states. Connecticut is leading the way:

…Connecticut has become the first state in the nation to introduce legislation that would require MySpace, other social networking sites, and chat rooms to verify the ages of their users. Any postings by those under 18 would require parental permission. Failure to comply would result in a fine to the Internet company of $5,000 per incident.

The goal is for the law to become a model for national legislation. As many as 20 state attorneys general are now considering similar bills.

"The basic idea here is that the parents should be empowered, and they should be put back in control if their children are below a certain age," says Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who's leading the fight for this type of legislation in Connecticut and around the country. "That's why age verification along with parental permission is key."

How, exactly, does taking responsibility for kids' online behavior away from the parents and giving it to the state government "empower" those parents?

And how, exactly, are MySpace and the like supposed to verify ages and permissions? Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal seems to think it's a piece of cake:

The Connecticut bill would require networking sites to verify that a user either is 18 or older or has parental permission to have a profile. Dozens of Internet companies already provide age-verification tools. So this is how it would work: When a person provides information to a networking site, such as name, date of birth, or address, the site would put that information through verification sites, which would cross-check it against public records like driver's licenses, voter-registration information, land records, and local tax records. This process is already used for such things as online sales of alcohol and cigarettes.

Umm, OK —  but it works for sales of alcohol and cigarettes because those have to be paid for with a credit card and delivered to you. You can't just give the website any old name and address.

MySpace and the like face a completely different situation. Let's say Paul Pervert, 43, wants to impersonate a 14-year-old boy on MySpace in order to befriend young girls. Looking at whatever registration process they use, he sees that he needs the permission of a parent/guardian. "OK," he says, picking up a phone book, "I'm … [flip, flip, flip] … John Smith at 123 Elm Street, and my son Sammy has my permission to join MySpace."

Odds are John Smith has a driver's license, pays taxes, etc., so Paul passes the verification process. If not, Paul can try again. If they make it really tough, maybe Paul has to do some research of the most basic identity-theft variety (how hard is it to find someone's birthdate or driver's license number?). 

No, this kind of legislation won't make kids safer. But it'll make a lot of gullible parents feel better, help the sponsoring AGs and legislators flaunt their good intentions and troll for votes, and add to the revenue of the verification service providers. Someone should check into whether AG Richard Blumenthal owns stock in any of the latter.

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2 Responses to “More nanny-statism”

  1. Alan Williamson said

    Nicely said and i believe you hit the nail on the head. The perception that everything is now alright for gullible parents.

  2. rgcombs said

    Thanks, Alan! I don’t know how it is in Britain, but here in the Colonies, the phrase “It’s for the children” makes voters practically swoon. 🙁

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