Fence off Internet porn

WWW- The Internet has transformed the pornography business. In little more than a decade, online “adult entertainment” has become a booming multibillion dollar industry, enabled by the World Wide Web’s easy, impersonal accessibility.

Avoiding or blocking the X-rated onslaught can be nearly impossible. Internet content moves with no respect for borders and at such slippery speed that tracking it is like trying to grab hold of mercury. Innocuous-looking e-mail titled, say, “Here’s the offer you requested” can link to pornography generated in the Ukraine. Much of what’s out there makes the “adult content” of the past look quaint.

For those who want porn, that may be fine. But for others, it can be deeply offensive. And for children, it can be damaging.

A blanket ban is not a useful option because foreign sites are beyond the reach of U.S. law, which is why one fresh approach deserves encouragement.

It’s a proposal for a virtual red-light district in the form of a new Internet domain. Instead of .com or one of the other familiar Web address suffixes, porn would have .xxx. People would know what they’re getting. Parents could more easily filter it out.

The idea is no cure-all. For one, it would be voluntary. Critics point out, correctly, that pornographers could still keep their .com addresses, and many probably would. Nor would it stop those deceptive e-mails. But that’s not the point.

Its value is as an experiment, particularly for protecting children. Why not?

Parents need all the help they can get in protecting their kids’ experience online. They have a variety of constantly improving filters and other tools. Internet service providers, vying for customers, have made it a priority to give parents levels of screening and ways to report offensive e-mail. An .xxx address is one more kind of filter.

Nobody can predict for sure just how it would affect the industry, but there’s some cause to believe the impact would be helpful. Purveyors signing up for .xxx would be required to pledge responsible business practices, including no pushing to minors. Financial institutions, now leery of them, might provide an incentive for better behavior.

The adult entertainment industry has already been sensitive to pressure to protect children. It has taken steps – under pressure from Congress, which wants to tax adult entertainment sites – to voluntarily avoid pushing content to children.

But the .xxx idea is running into opposition. Some critics say it would encourage online porn. Hello? Do they have computers?

Other opponents fear that the new domain would legitimize porn. Their protests – including more than 6,000 letters, many part of a campaign by the conservative Family Research Council – forced a delay in implementing .xxx. The regulatory board, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is to meet today on the issue.

The board shouldn’t bow to the pressure. Internet porn is big business driven by big demand. It can’t be eradicated. But trying to improve the protections for parents is a good idea – including a .xxx domain experiment.

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