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Bill seeks to limit kids' access to Internet networking sites

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds and other members of Congress want to make it harder for American kids to use library computers for Internet networking sites such as My-Space.com.

As part of an effort to protect children from sexual predators in cyberspace, Reynolds appeared Tuesday with U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn, library officials and local police at the Amherst Public Library to highlight his work on the Deleting Online Predators Act. It would block children's access to such sites without parental permission or direct adult supervision.

"One of the things certainly with the 21st century, the Internet and computers, is to make sure our children are protected from sexual predators," the Clarence Republican said. "We need to know that our schools and libraries are a place of solace where our children are protected."

Reynolds said while parents and officials have always guarded against predators lurking around school yards, the Internet has given criminals new opportunities. He noted more than 85 million people are registered with MySpace.com -- including millions of children -- and that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates more than 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given time.

The bill he has co-sponsored in the House would require schools and libraries receiving federal funds to block children's access to the sites. It also would create an online clearinghouse to inform parents, teachers, school officials and students about the potential dangers of social networking sites and chat rooms. In addition, the bill requires the Federal Trade Commission to issue online consumer alerts regarding dangerous sites and suspicious activity.

Reynolds said one in five children will receive unwanted sexual advances online, but only one in four will report them to parents. Michael C. Mahaney, director of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, explained at the Reynolds event that no child under 17 is allowed Internet access in any Erie County library without parental permission.

"It is the parent's right to determine what is right for his or her child to experience in the library," Mahaney said. "But of course we are trying to make a safe, comfortable, conducive atmosphere where people can explore the resources we have."

Flynn noted the Department of Justice has initiated its own program to safeguard children from Internet predators. But he endorsed the Reynolds bill, noting the Internet has created "a new avenue, a new outlet in which they can reach our young children."

"We're always pleased when we see that our representatives are working with law enforcement," he said.

Reynolds said he is heartened by the bill's track record in Congress so far, adding it has "good momentum" toward passage. He said its "teeth" lie in the fact that libraries could lose their federal funding by failing to comply with its new standards regarding minor access to the Internet.

"The Amherst library system is a perfect role model," he said. "Unfortunately, that's not the case throughout the country, or even my district."

Representatives from My-Space.com did not return a phone call seeking comment.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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