Govt. agents plans Net privacy "sweeps" : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

04/20/00- Updated 06:24 PM ET

Govt. agents plans Net privacy "sweeps"

What should be done to protect children online? WASHINGTON (AP) - Government agents are going to surf thousands of Web sites as they enforce a federal ban on collecting personal information from children without a parent's permission, officials said Thursday, a day before companies must begin following the new rules.

''It's a high priority for the agency,'' said Loren G. Thompson, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission, the regulators overseeing the implementation of the new online child privacy law. ''The bottom line is we will be enforcing this law and we will be looking at violators closely.''

Related story: Feds unveil Net privacy site for kids Thompson said Thursday that dozens of employees in the agency's state-of-the-art computer lab will make ''sweeps'' or peruse random Web sites to ensure they are complying with the law. That means the sites that plan to share children's information with other companies, such as marketing firms, must get parents' permission first. and COPPA In order to comply with federal law, we're making some minor changes in the way we interact with our readers. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act mandates that Internet sites cannot collect any personal information from readers under 13, without verifiable parental permission. That information includes e-mail addresses. You might receive error messages temporarily during this changeover.

The changes:

Surveys, quizzes and requests for reader participation: Before you're able to submit answers to certain electronic opinion surveys, quizzes or interactive features on our site, you must indicate your age on a form. If you are younger than 13, you will not be able to participate. services: Children 12 or younger will not be able to register for services, including free email, personal home pages, or any of our special email products such as The Daily Briefing. Companies can get the approval several ways: through mailed or faxed paperwork, toll-free phone calls, credit-card numbers, or e-mail.

The agency has the capabilities to check hundreds of Web sites daily. The commission is looking to make sure the sites post how parents can grant their permission, Thompson said. There's no definite number of how many sites the law would affect, but officials suspect thousands.

Each child that e-mails or posts identifiable information like a name and address - without a parent's permission - could cost a Web site operator $11,000, said Thompson.

Fines and sleuthing won't stop everyone, said privacy advocate Jason Catlett, but federal scrutiny could move larger, more-reputable firms to do the right thing.

''This law draws a line in the sand,'' said Catlett of Junkbusters Corp., a company that specializes in Internet privacy matters. ''Some will stumble over it stupidly. Clearly, it will take time.''

The 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, affecting mostly commercial sites, was enacted after federal officials found that companies were asking children all sorts of questions while they played video games online or researched book reports. Just 1% were asking for parental permission. The ban covers information that could identify a particular child.

Last fall, the FTC wrote the set of rules telling companies how to follow the law. When critics complained that anyone - especially a bright, tech-savvy child - could impersonate a parent over Internet mail, the FTC said companies sharing information with others would have to use digital signature technology - designed to prevent e-mail forgeries.

Parents, however, must help industry and government protect their children, said Andrew Weinstein, spokesman for America Online, which gets consent from parents when they create screen names for their children on the service.

He added, ''this law is not a replacement for parental involvement.''

-- Martin Thompson (, April 21, 2000

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