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March 13, 1996

Plan to Block Censorship on Internet

By STEVE LOHR

The top on-line service companies and the National Consumers League announced Tuesday that they would begin a campaign to educate the public about intellectual property rights, privacy and consumer protection on the Internet.

The initiative is part of the on-line industry's response to the new Communications Decency Act, which makes it a felony to knowingly transmit indecent or patently offensive material over computer networks where children may see it.

Last month the on-line companies joined civil liberties groups to challenge the law in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. The industry says the law is "unconstitutionally vague" and subjects computer networks to more restrictive standards of speech than those that apply to books, newspapers and other printed material.

The on-line companies say current laws, public education and responsible parents are the best means to protect children from objectionable materials on the Internet.

"We are committed to an open network and not legislation," said Daniel Hesse, general manager of the AT&T Online Services Group. "But we also want to ensure privacy and parental controls."

The program is called Project OPEN, for the Online Public Education Network. It plans to send out 250,000 brochures, refer consumer complaints to government investigators and place public-service ads in newspapers and magazines.

The 15-page brochure is a short primer for on-line beginners. It includes common-sense tips as "Keep personal information private" and "Never give out your password." It discusses the software that allows parents to block their children from access to selected Internet sites and lists some of the suppliers.

Individuals who want a copy of the brochure or seek information on parental-control software can call Project OPEN at (800) 466-OPEN. Its site on the World Wide Web is http://www.isa.net/project-open.

The National Consumers League, a longstanding advocacy group, set up "Internet Fraud Watch" two weeks ago to answer questions and forward complaints to government investigators. Its toll-free number is (800) 876-7060, and its Web site is http://www.fraud.org.

Industry executives portrayed the education effort on Tuesday as a natural step to reach out to mainstream consumers. Still, the program also has an implicit marketing message, suggesting that the Internet is open and welcoming to all.

The founding corporate members of the project include America Online; AT&T; Compuserve, which is owned by H&R Block; Microsoft; Netcom, and Prodigy Services, which is owned by Sears, Roebuck and IBM.


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