June 8, 2009 | By Seth Schoen

EFF Comments on Child Safe Viewing Act

Recently, EFF filed comments with the FCC in connection with the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007, which requires the FCC to conduct a study of V-chip-like blocking technologies that might apply to media other than television – such as Internet access, perhaps. The law requires the FCC to study these "advanced blocking technologies" and report back to Congress, which might then take some further legislative action based on the report's contents. Our comments emphasized First Amendment issues, but there turns out to be a copyright angle lurking here too (which we'll discuss in a separate blog post).

Our comments focused on young people's free expression rights and on the constitutional problems that the FCC could run into if it tries to do certain things, like impose mandatory ratings on any kind of programming, or give official government endorsement to a private-sector rating scheme. The general consensus of most organizations that commented was that blocking technologies are numerous and widely available and don't need any kind of government assistance. We also pointed out that Internet censorware has a poor track record with regard to accuracy and impartiality (even if one assumes that impartiality in a rating system is possible); the FCC's report should make Congress aware of this issue to reduce the temptation to mandate such software.

We're concerned that some technology developers who lobby the FCC about its report are hoping to get a favorable mention and maybe get their technology mandated by Congress – which could be an enormous windfall for an obscure technology company. (The docket of comments on the CSVA includes some interesting wrangling about patents applicable to the V-chip and next-generation V-chip enhancements; since Congress already mandated that certain televisions include V-chips, there's quite a bit of money at stake, and even more at stake if Congress updates the V-chip mandate to reflect technological evolution, or tries to apply it beyond television sets.)

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