US Passes Misleading Hyperlink Law

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The US Congress passed a bill into law this week aimed at protecting children from online predators. The law dictates how hyperlinks and domain names leading to sexual content may be presented. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 prohibits “misleading” domain names and links.

The law, which also imposes stricter penalties and limitations on sex offenders, imposes jail time and fines on those who try to trick minors into viewing sexual content via misspelled domain names, search, and misleading hyperlinks. Links to such content will need to be clearly labeled as to the nature of it.

From the government press release, measures include:

– More consistent availability to the public through the Internet of information concerning the identities and locations of sex offenders who are required to register.

– Prohibiting the insidious practice engaged in by certain sexually explicit web sites of hiding innocuous terms in the hypertext markup language so that a search for those terms on the Internet yields links to the sexually explicit web sites.

The language of section 2252B of the bill, entitled “Misleading domain names on the Internet”:

    (a) Whoever knowingly uses a misleading domain name on the Internet with the intent to deceive a person into viewing material constituting obscenity shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.

    (b) Whoever knowingly uses a misleading domain name on the Internet with the intent to deceive a minor into viewing material that is harmful to minors on the Internet shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 4 years, or both.

    (c) For the purposes of this section, a domain name that includes a word or words to indicate the sexual content of the site, such as “sex” or “porn”, is not misleading.

    (d) For the purposes of this section, the term “material that is harmful to minors” means any communication, consisting of nudity, sex, or excretion, that, taken as a whole and with reference to its context-

    (1) predominantly appeals to a prurient interest of minors;

    (2) is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors; and

    (3) lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

    (e) For the purposes of subsection (d), the term “sex” means acts of masturbation, sexual intercourse, or physcial [1] contact with a person’s genitals, or the condition of human male or female genitals when in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal.

“America’s children will be better protected from every parent’s worst nightmare — sexual predators — thanks to passage of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. I applaud both the House and Senate — and in particular the leadership of Chairman Specter in the Senate and Chairman Sensenbrenner in the House — for passing this comprehensive bill, which includes provisions proposed by the Department of Justice,” said US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

“The protection of our Nation’s children has been, and will continue to be, one of the Department’s highest priorities, and we believe this bill will help us do our job even better.”

The law is already receiving criticism from those who feel it is a violation of free speech. Blogger “Shii” fears the language of the law prohibits even “prank links.”

“So, what does this bill outlaw? You can’t put prank links to Goatse anymore, because they decieve people into viewing obscenity. More importantly, you can’t link to erotic art on a website that minors might read without explicitly explaining its erotic nature. So, if I were to link to, say, the anime image database Danbooru, that would be totally illegal because I didn’t tell you what sort of pictures you might find there.”

What’s Goatse? It’s um, erm, uhYou really don’t want to know.

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