AGs' study: Online threats to children decreasing

Chris Rizo Jan. 14, 2009, 1:30am

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Legal Newsline)-A study ordered by 49 state attorneys general says there is no simple way to make the Internet safer for children, and that online threats to children might be exaggerated.

The report by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force said there is no way to completely protect children from such online threats as pornography, bullying and sexual predators.

The task force of industry and technology experts and academicians also found that most of the threats to children come from other minors, not adults.

Online risks are "not radically different in nature or scope than the risks minors have long faced offline," the report said. "and minors who are most at risk in the offline world continue to be most at risk online."

The panel was created last February as the result of an agreement between MySpace and 49 state attorneys general.

The panel in its report to be released today warned Internet companies not to overly rely upon any single fix as the primary solution.

Rather than a simple fix, the 278-page report calls for a mix of technology, including age and identity verification and biometrics; parental involvement and law enforcement efforts to make cyberspace safer for children.

"Parents, teachers, mentors, social services, law enforcement and minors themselves all have crucial roles to play in ensuring online safety for all minors," the report said.

The study noted that as many as 13 percent of children receive sexual solicitations online, but few of them are from adults. That is down from 19 percent in 2000.

"Of particular concern are the sexual solicitations between minors and the frequency with which online-initiated sexual contact resembles statutory rape rather than other models of abuse," the report said.

The task force was led by Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Panel members included representatives from such media companies as Google Inc., Time Warner Inc.'s AOL and Facebook Inc. and MySpace, owned by News Corp.

In recent years, state attorneys general have pressured Internet social networking sites to do more to protect children from online pedophiles.

Among other measures, officials have got some Web companies, including MySpace, to scan their membership records for known sexual predators.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at

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