The proposed federal Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) would require public schools and libraries to block student access to “social networking websites,” such as MySpace.com, raising questions about minors’ First Amendment rights. First introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in May 2006, DOPA is designed to protect children from sexual predators online.

DOPA would require public schools and libraries to block social networking

According to factual findings presented in the legislation, sexual predators often “approach minors on the Internet using chat rooms and social networking websites”; moreover, “one in five children has been approached sexually on the Internet.”

DOPA would require public schools and libraries that receive federal funds for Internet access to provide a “technology protection measure” that protects children from accessing certain material online, including child pornography, material that is obscene or harmful to minors, or “commercial social networking website(s) or chat room(s) unless used for an educational purpose with adult supervision.”

Bill required parental permission required for access to some sites

Further, DOPA’s “technology protection measure” would require children to have parental authorization to access social networking websites and would inform “parents that sexual predators can use these websites and chatrooms to prey on children.”

The House passed DOPA in July 2006 by a vote of 410–26. The bill was referred to a Senate committee but did not make it to a full Senate vote. Another version, the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2007, was introduced in the House in February 2007.

ALA asserted that DOPA would violate the First Amendment

Critics, such as the American Library Association (ALA), assert that DOPA would violate the First Amendment by blocking access to material that is not harmful to minors.

The ALA also contends the legislation is unnecessary because of the Children’s Internet Protection Act, enacted in December 2000 and upheld by the Supreme Court in United States v. American Library Association (2003).

David L. Hudson, Jr. is a law professor at Belmont who publishes widely on First Amendment topics.  He is the author of a 12-lecture audio course on the First Amendment entitled Freedom of Speech: Understanding the First Amendment (Now You Know Media, 2018).  He also is the author of many First Amendment books, including The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012) and Freedom of Speech: Documents Decoded (ABC-CLIO, 2017). This article was originally published in 2009.‚Äč

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