Welcome to the 21st Century: Laws to Protect Children Using the Internet

7 years ago
Computer Technology Savvy

Uh, do you remember a few months ago when I said I don't text? Well, I need to retract that statement. I now text (kind of). Yes, it's true. I just bought a Smartphone. I have now entered the 21st Century.

I am still not a huge fan of texting (yet), and I still advocate for no texting while driving, but the fact is many people just don't like to communicate in any other way (not to name any of my sisters-in-law). And I just might like to communicate with them.

Not only am I able to easily send and receive text messages on my new phone, I can also tweet, blog, access the Internet, post on Facebook, map where I am and where I would like to be, etc, etc, etc. And of course, if anyone is still interested in actually speaking to me, I can use it as a phone.

Quite honestly, the timing of this purchase is related to my forthcoming trip to NYC. I did not want to be left out of the communication loop when I go to a blogging conference in a couple of weeks. I knew I would be the only one in attendance without some kind of Smartphone. OK, I admit it. I folded to peer pressure, but regardless of the reason I have one.

The next step is to learn to use it. Technology savvy I am not. As easy as it is to send a text on my new phone, I still made a mistake the first time I attempted it. We were shopping in IKEA. DH and the Darlings were in the bathroom. I was in the bedding department. I thought I would be all smart with my Smartphone and text DH asking him, "Do you need a new pillow?" So, I did - only I mistyped DH's phone number by one digit and sent some total stranger a text about his or her bedding needs. I realized it before I got a quizzical reply, but in my panic was not sure what to do. I did reply explaining I had sent my message to the wrong number. I am definitely going to a need a tutorial.

Our Kids and Technology

The landscape of technology is changing with lightning speed. Every few months there are new and better versions of phones, computers, search engines, social media outlets, etc. We now have access to the world at our fingertips, and that access continually gets faster and broader with each passing year. Our children will not know life without technologies like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google, iTunes, texting, email, and all the Internet has to offer.

The Internet provides so much wonderful information for inquisitive kids seeking out answers to their never-ending questions; students writing papers and doing homework; families staying in contact with friends and family across the country and so much more. The problem is that with all the good that comes from the Internet, it also allows the bad to creep in too.

There's a never ending stream of junk email, pop up ads and circulating forwards. While these things are more irritating than harmful, there are many evils lurking in the dark corners of the Internet waiting to prey on young, naïve and unsuspecting users. It's easy to mistype a website url or give the url the wrong ending, like .com instead of .gov or .org, thereby leading you to a very different site. It is also simple to "meet" or "friend" the wrong kind of people on popular social media sites. Many sites ask for or require personal information that could expose your child to identity theft or other crimes. And these are just a few examples of the dangers of children using the Internet.

Internet Safety Laws

There are a few federal laws that are meant to protect kids using the Internet. One is Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule and the other is the Federal Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). The primary goal of COPPA is to give parents control over what information is collected from their children online and how such information may be used. CIPA provides for three different types of funding to states that have Internet filtering laws for libraries and/or public schools: 1) aid to elementary and secondary schools; 2) Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants to states for support of public libraries; and 3) the E-rate program that provides technology discounts to schools and public libraries.


COPPA applies to:

  • Operators of commercial Web sites and online services directed to children under 13 that collect personal information from them;
  • Operators of general audience sites that knowingly collect personal information from children under 13; and
  • Operators of general audience sites that have a separate children's area and that collect personal information from children under 13.

COPPA requires operators to:

  • Post a privacy policy on the homepage of the Web site and link to the privacy policy on every page where personal information is collected.
  • Provide notice about the site's information collection practices to parents and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children.
  • Give parents a choice as to whether their child's personal information will be disclosed to third parties.
  • Provide parents access to their child's personal information and the opportunity to delete the child's personal information and opt-out of future collection or use of the information.
  • Not condition a child's participation in a game, contest or other activity on the child's disclosing more personal information than is reasonably necessary to participate in that activity.
  • Maintain the confidentiality, security and integrity of personal information collected from children


Twenty-one states have Internet filtering laws that apply to public schools or libraries. The majority of these states simply require school boards or public libraries to adopt Internet use policies to prevent minors from gaining access to sexually explicit, obscene or harmful materials. However, some states also require publicly funded institutions to install filtering software on library terminals or school computers.

CIPA requires public libraries that participate in the LSTA and E-rate programs to certify that they are using computer filtering software  to prevent the on-screen depiction of obscenity, child pornography or other material harmful to minors. The act allows adult library patrons to request that a librarian disable the filtering software. In order to receive E-rate discounts, libraries are not allowed to disable filtering programs for minor users. For a table of specific state laws click here .

Criminal Statutes

There are other laws that protect minors from exploitation, enticement, solicitation and other crimes against a person which are in penal codes of each state and the federal code. These laws may not exclusively apply to the Internet, but do extend to that platform.

When to Contact the Authorities

If you find out that any of the following has occurred in your household via the Internet immediately contact your local or state law enforcement agency, the FBI, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:

  • Your child or anyone in the household has received child pornography;
  • Your child has been sexually solicited by someone who knows that your child is under 18 years of age;
  • Your child has received sexually explicit images from someone that knows your child is under the age of 18.

If any of these scenarios occur, keep the computer turned off in order to preserve any evidence for future law enforcement use. Unless directed to do so by the law enforcement agency, you should not attempt to copy any of the images and/or text found on the computer.

The Scoop

The point is not to forbid your child from accessing the resources on the Internet, but to make using the Internet safe for your child. On Wednesday, I will post ways to do just that. There are many methods and products available to protect your child from the Internet hazards. Have you or your children encountered any of these dangers while using the Internet? Over and out…




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