“We have all heard the stories of young persons taking inappropriate pictures of themselves and their friends,” Assemblymember Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles) said in sponsoring a new bill. “Pedophiles and collectors of child erotica seek out these images – and all too often find them – on the pages of social networking sites.” AB 632, the new bill authored by the assemblymember requires social networking Web sites like Facebook.com and MySpace.com to warn users that any image they post may be copied without their consent or knowledge. Though opponents say the bill will be too burdensome for the Web sites and the warnings will ultimately be ineffective, the bill passed through the California State Assembly on Thursday, May 26, and is on its way to the State Senate.

According to AB 632, a social networking Internet Web site is a service that allows individuals to create a public or semipublic profile as well a list of “friends.” Those with access are able to view each other’s profiles and lists of friends to extend their own network. The speed and scope of the Internet make social sites a handy way to stay in contact with many friends and family over long distances.

While pictures and videos are a mainstay of the sites, teenagers, who are among the largest group to use these Web sites, often lack discretion about the images they share online and sometimes post sexually explicit pictures. Worse, users can post pictures of their friends, which any of that user’s friends can view, and so on and so on. Ultimately, users outside of the original poster’s own circle of friends gain access to photos the sender never intended them to see.

Any image on the Internet can be easily saved or copied and, according to Davis’s office, sexual predators and child molesters misuse this ability to save and possibly redistribute inappropriate or illegal images. “What if a picture you intended to share only with your designated circle of trust is copied and distributed beyond your control?” Davis asked in the press release. The nature of the Internet often makes it impossible to retrieve these images.

AB 632 requires the social networking sites to clearly warn users-whenever a user tries to post a photograph or video, for instance-that it may be copied by anyone who views it without their consent. Davis believes that this is important information that helps consumers make better-informed decisions on posting certain pictures on the Internet. “With AB 632, I am putting the individual back in control of the publication, use, and distribution of their own image,” he said.

TechAmerica represented a broad coalition of business and technology groups that opposed the bill, saying that it is, at best, ineffectual and unnecessary. They argued that the requirement to provide a warning to users would be too difficult for the Websites to justify any anticipated benefit, and that child predators are more likely find inappropriate images on other types of Websites that this bill does not affect. They also contended that the warnings will not only be ineffective, but entirely annoying and unpopular with users. They were able to eliminate a part of the bill that would require the Web sites to flag any image that is re-posted by another user because such technology does not currently exist.

Aided by an “aye” vote from Santa Barbara Assemblymember Pedro Nava, the rest of the bill passed through the Assembly with a vote of 46 to 28. In a press release, Davis was quoted as saying, “This is a common sense solution to a growing problem.”


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