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V-Chip 2.0 Bill Clears, Headaches For Online Video Loom?

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The Child Safe Viewing Act, sponsored by Senator Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas, has cleared the Senate Commerce Committee. It would require the FCC to study technology that would allow cross-platform content controls to protect the children from viewing content deemed objectionable or indecent by adults. “My bill simply lights a fire under the FCC to take a fresh look at new options in the marketplace,” Pryor is quoted in an article by MediaWeek.

vchipbss.jpgThe current V-Chip technology is already nearly ubiquitous in American television sets, preventing children from viewing content their parents might not be comfortable with. Juvenile crime, teen pregnancies and the use of vulgar and abusive language by children have all plummeted. Kidding!

If signed into law after passing both houses of congress, the FCC would be given 120 days to begin a public proceeding evaluating the merits of installing content filters on every possible video device and distribution medium, including the Internet and mobile devices. And with Congress happy to pass laws allowing for warrantless wiretapping of communications between Americans, I have a bad feeling this ridiculous idea might have legs.

While the current V-Chip technology broadly filters content based on ratings voluntarily adopted by broadcasters, this bill asks that new technology “operate independently of ratings pre-assigned by the creator of such video or audio programming,” presumably meaning that video would be automatically scanned for language, sexual content and drug use (which, according to the bill, children imitate after seeing in a video — there is, however, no mention of violence).

Based on the capabilities of current web filtering technology, that would mean that plenty of perfectly harmless entertainment as well as critically important educational material could be blocked, while content many might find objectionable still gets through — made even more problematic by the fact that speech and image recognition technology is no where near advanced enough to tell the difference between mentos-and-coke geysers and bukkake.

This bill is nakedly opportunistic political pandering of the worst sort, exploiting media-induced fears about the ‘dangers’ of Internet content in order to score points with constituents. And as Seth Finkelstein points out, it will be a greating marketing opportunity for censorware providers.

The genius, of course, is that any politician who opposes the bill on the grounds that it’s not technically feasible and flies in the face of the intentions behind the First Amendment will face accusations of not caring about the children.