The internet brings the world—for good and bad—into your home. With a high speed internet connection your child can research educational subjects with greater efficiency than graduate students could have managed 30 years ago.
With this access comes the risk to children from online predators, exposure to inappropriate material, and accidental disclosure of personal and financial information. Now with the popularity of social websites, it can be very difficult to distinguish between sites that are designed for children and ones that are designed for adults. The internet as we recognize it emerged in 1991 with the World Wide Web, and that same year the first webcam displayed a visual of a coffee pot—hardly a threat to children. However, even before the commercialization of the internet, law enforcement knew of dangers to children from the rapidly evolving medium.
In 1993, FBI agents worked on the disappearance of a boy in Maryland. Through the investigation, law enforcement uncovered a pedophile and child pornography ring. Within two years, the FBI responded by creating the Innocent Images National Initiative (IINI). Less than ten years later, the FBI had undercover operations in half of its field offices and had opened more than 10,000 cases of predators using the internet to troll for underage victims.
IINI investigates more areas of the internet than just bulletin board systems (BBSs, the preferred method of predation in the 1990s):
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels
Internet websites that post child pornography
Online groups and organizations (eGroups)
From 2001 to 2011, IINI obtained 11,400 convictions for online crimes against children. With the advent of high speed internet, the flow of information increased, and so too did the need for greater protections.
In 2000 Congress enacted the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to limit children’s access to harmful or obscene online content. This far-reaching law promulgated rules from many agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which controls application of the reduced E-rate internet access program for schools and libraries. Now institutions wishing to earn the reduced connectivity rate must show that they have internet safety policies to safeguard children online.
Congress enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) effective in 2000. This law directed the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to create rules to control the flow of personal data from computers used by children. For an online presence to obtain personal data from a child, the parent must give informed consent. Any information collected must be stored securely by the firm collecting it, and the online company must spell out what information is collected.
While sexual predation is obviously a parent’s great fear relating to their child’s internet use, COPPA helps stem the invasion of privacy brought on by social networking, targeted advertising, and mobile web surfing. Children do not have the mental development to understand the harm in sharing personal information, and can inadvertently give away vital family financial information as well.
For parents wanting to approach this issue proactively, the FBI offers a site for parents, teachers and children, Safe Online Surfing. SOS lets children play games to learn how best to protect themselves on the internet. And yes, it’s a secure connection.