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Bill would fund internet safety education

A federal lawmaker has introduced internet safety legislation that, if passed, would authorize roughly $175 million–$35 million a year for five years–for internet safety education and training to help make children, parents, and educators aware of proper online behavior and the dangers the internet poses.

The School and Family Education about the Internet (SAFE Internet) Act, sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would "create a grant program to support existing and new internet safety programs that meet guidelines based on the cyber safety strategies found to be most effective."

"The way to meet the challenges and opportunities the internet presents isn’t to deny our children access to this great resource, but to make sure they know how to use it wisely," Menendez said.

"Just as we make sure our children know not to talk to strangers, not to bully kids on the playground, and not to give out their personal information, we have the same responsibility to teach them to apply these values online. That’s why I’m introducing this bill to make internet safety the strong federal priority it should be."

The bill would fund research to determine best practices in internet safety education and then create guidelines for the grants.

Using those guidelines, grants would be awarded to eligible recipients, including state educational agencies, nonprofit organizations, and school-nonprofit partnerships.

Recipients would use the funds to develop internet safety education programs, train teachers and administrators, maintain media campaigns to promote awareness of the risks children face online, and educate parents about identifying and protecting their children from those risks.

Researchers and heads of administering government agencies will evaluate current internet safety education programs, gather findings regarding at-risk children, and examine any other area of interest. The research group also would identify gaps in internet safety education. A final report from the group will be used to further identify and refine best practices in internet safety.

The Broadband Data Improvement Act, signed into law in October 2008 by President Bush, requires schools receiving federal eRate discounts on their telecommunications services and internet access to have internet safety programs in place, but designated no funding toward that end. 

"We’ve waited years for this," said Parry Aftab, the executive director of WiredSafety.  The law will bring together stakeholders, including industry leaders, parents, educators, informed students, policy makers, and law enforcement officials, and will encourage them to collaborate to keep children safe online, she added.

Aftab noted in a May 14 blog entry that adults "need to help to protect our kids and give them cyber literacy skills."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., has expressed her support for the SAFE Internet Act. Wasserman Schultz plans to make a few technical changes to the bill and is in discussions to secure a Republican co-sponsor, which will make it more likely to move in the House of Representatives, a spokesman said.

She plans to introduce her version of the bill in the House in early June, the spokesman said.

"Educating children must be our first line of defense to keep them safe from the dangers of online predators, cyber bullies, sexting, and other online dangers," said Wasserman Schultz.

Cynthia Logan, mother of Jessie Logan, the high school senior who committed suicide after a nude photo she text-messaged was made public, voiced her support for the proposed law and said it would help schools learn how to respond when a student is victimized online.

Web Wise Kids CEO Judi Westberg Warren said the organization supports passage of the law, which could help prevent millions of children from being victimized online.

"Today’s digital world presents a tremendous opportunity for innovation, but also significant challenges to keep children safe. Our kids’ futures depend on their understanding and leveraging technology in a smart way," she said.

The bill is S.1047.


Sen. Robert Menendez

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Parry Aftab’s blog

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