USA, Japan Propose Limits on Explicit Online Material

posted on 2007-12-09 10:16 EST
Separate, broadly written proposals could affect manga, anime

The United States House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that would expand the online enforcement against "any image of any apparent child pornography." In Japan, a government research panel on the unification of telecommunications and broadcast laws called for legislation to regulate "harmful materials" on the Internet on Thursday. Both efforts could affect manga and anime that depict fictional, explicit content.

America's H.R. 3791 bill, which is known as the "Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act of 2007" or "SAFE Act of 2007," would toughen the penalties for Internet Service Providers who do not report "any facts or circumstances that appear to indicate" pornography or sexual exploitation of minors. The bill passed the House with a 409-2 vote, with only Paul Brown (R-GA) and presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX) voting against it. It would still need to pass the Senate and be signed by the President before becoming law.

The Ars Technica technology website points out clauses that explicitly say that the act does not require providers to "monitor" users and content or even "affirmatively seek facts or circumstances" related to pornography or sexual exploitation. However, if providers already do any monitoring for these issues or unrelated ones, they have a "duty to report" and record the incidents. (This is already true with lesser penalties under the current law.) Simon Jones, the head of the manga firm Icarus Publishing, writes that providers may decide to forego monitoring for any issues to avoid dealing with this bill if it becomes law. Other commentators say end users with open Wi-Fi connections or Internet kiosks might be held accountable as providers. A spokesperson for one of the bill's bipartisan sponsors, Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), initially told Ars Technica that these broad interpretations are incorrect, but could not confirm that with the representative's policy staffers for the site's report.

The commentators also say that the vague language in other clauses would force providers to make unqualified legal determinations of what constitutes an "image of any apparent child pornography." The broad language may also include depictions of fictional minors, which may put certain anime and manga under scrutiny.

In Japan, a research panel recommended on Thursday that a bill be submitted to the Diet (the Japanese legislative body) in 2010 to unify the laws on telecommunications and broadcasting. Among its many recommendations to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is the legal groundwork to allow the regulation of "harmful materials" on the Internet. The report asserted the need to protect minors from such materials, but noted the current laws do not allow the government to impose filtering. Another panel will convene between 2008 and 2009 to draft more specific proposals, after which the ministry plans to submit a bill to the Diet.

On October 25, the Japanese government's Cabinet Office issued the results of a poll in which people were asked in individual interviews about "harmful materials." 90.9% said such materials on the Internet should be regulated, or "should be regulated if I had to choose."

Source: Ars Technica, atmarkIT

Errata: Ron Paul's state corrected. Thanks, biolizard_alpha.

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