Originally created 01/26/99

Witness: Age-check system for online porn is safe, cheap



PHILADELPHIA -- Age-verification systems required under a federal law designed to keep online pornography away from children would be inexpensive, secure and simple to run, a computer expert testified Monday.

Dan R. Olsen Jr. contradicted testimony given last week by computer experts and Web site operators who said such systems would increase costs and decrease traffic to their pages, effectively putting them out of business.

He also testified that encryption systems, which encode credit card numbers to foil online theft, are good enough that consumers should not worry about becoming victims of fraud any more than they would when using their cards in public.

"If I wanted to steal a credit card, I'd become a waiter in a restaurant," said Olsen, a computer professor at Brigham Young University who testified for the Justice Department about the Child Online Protection Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the law, which would require commercial Web sites to collect a credit card number or some other access code as proof of age before allowing users to view material deemed harmful to minors. President Clinton signed the law last year, but U.S. District Judge Lowell A. Reed Jr. temporarily blocked its enforcement.

Reed is expected to decide by Feb. 1 whether a more permanent delay should be issued.

The law's supporters say it is a sensible way to keep Internet pornography away from children. The ACLU, however, contends the law violates the First Amendment and claims mainstream sites may inadvertently be affected.

The ACLU last week argued that parts of the hearing should be closed to the public to protect some Web sites from releasing proprietary information. Several news organizations filed a motion to keep the hearing open.

Reed ruled Monday that no part of the proceeding would be closed. Instead, he said the information would be allowed as evidence but not openly discussed in court, with the sensitive material kept under seal.