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Senate OKs child porn bill

March 2, 2003


The U.S. Senate has approved a new child pornography bill designed to overcome the Supreme Court's objections with previous attempts to ban computer-generated child porn.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, would make it illegal to create digital or computer-generated images that are represented as child pornography.

Last April, the Supreme Court ruled that the part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that banned child pornography was a violation of free speech. The Court didn't object to a ban on child porn, but said the wording of the law was too broad. The new legislation seeks to avoid these objections.

The bill passed on an 84-0 vote. Leahy said the legislation wasn't perfect, but it was "a good faith effort to provide powerful tools for prosecutors to deal with the problem of child pornography within constitutional limits."

The U.S. House of Representatives has yet to consider similar legislation.

BUTTERFLY FLOP. Microsoft MSN service announced Friday that its e-mail service mistakenly blocked incoming e-mail messages from rival Internet services because they were identified as sources of junk e-mail.

Microsoft said it had mistakenly blocked incoming e-mail from AOL Time Warner's RoadRunner service and from Earthlink. According to a story posted on the CNET.com Web site, Microsoft corrected the error as soon as it was discovered.

RoadRunner officials said it began receiving complaints about the block e-mails for a week before the mistake was corrected. Earthlink officials said its 5 million subscribers had problems with MSN addresses beginning about the same time.

Spam has become such a huge problem that most ISPs have started offering spam filtering for e-mail. Steve Linford, president of the e-mail blocklist The Spamhaus Project, said the problem was probably due to human error. ISPs can edit blocklists, which are lists of known spam addresses, in the fight to reduce spam. It's likely that the error banning Earthlink and RoadRummer occurred when a blocklist was being edited, Linford said.

MSN has 120 million e-mail users, counting those using the MSN Internet and Hotmail e-mail services.

SNOW DAY SHOPPING. The snow and ice storms that swept through the East Cost in mid-February created general havoc, closing airports and keeping workers at home and forcing retailers to curtail store hours or close entirely.

The storms forced J.C. Penney to close most of its 270 East Coast stores, though savvy shoppers still took advantage of the stores' President's Day sale prices, which were available at the Penney Web site. The company reported a significant increase in Web site traffic during the storm.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. also reported a jump in sales at the retailer's Web site, though the company said the increase could have been due to its aggressive holiday promotional campaign than just bad weather.

While retail shopping is usually a hands-on activity, it shows you that smart shoppers will find a way to take advantage of a bargain, regardless of the weather.

NAPSTER RIDES AGAIN. The original bad boy of music swapping will be returning to the Internet. Roxio Inc., the company that purchased Napster's name and intellectual property for $5 million at a bankruptcy sale last year, is now in negotiations to bring the service back in a legitimate format.

Plans are to bring Napster back as a subscription-based music service. Roxio is currently negotiating with the major music labels in an effort to secure top content.

The old Napster had planned to make the transition to a legitimate subscription service, but lawsuits from the entertainment industry forced it offline in July 2001. Roxio has hired Napster founder Shawn Fanning as a consultant.

Roxio, known for its CD creation and digital media software, plans to integrate the resurrected Napster into is recently released Audio Central music jukebox program, which is part of its Easy CD & DVD Creator 6.

TAXING NEWS. If you're thinking of making a purchase online to avoid paying sales tax, you probably need to do it sooner rather than later.

The move to collect state sales taxes from online retailers is picking up steam, and some states are beginning to get aggressive about it.

A number of large retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us and others, recently began voluntarily collecting taxes recently on their online sales. The move comes on the heels of the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, an effort spearheaded by the National Governor's Association to unite sales tax collection efforts for more than 30 states.

But it turns out a deal was cut with the big retailers in order to get them to start collecting the tax. As an incentive to collect the sales tax, retailers were offered amnesty from paying sales tax on all previous online sales.

The deal hasn't been well received by a number of states that would prefer to collect the back taxes as well. Illinois announced last week it would join a lawsuit against the big retailers, seeking to force them to pay back sales taxes. The issue of course, is money. Illinois is facing a multi-million-dollar budget shortfall this year. New York is one of the other states considering legal action to collect the back sales taxes.

Under current law, retailers are only required to collect taxes on sales to buyers who live in a state where the retailer has a physical presence. Studies show that states stand to lose growing amounts of revenue for each year they fail to collect sales tax on online sales. With state legislatures facing tight budgets, you can expect more retailers to start collecting sales taxes.

NEW Q&A SECTION. Your questions about computers or the Internet are needed for a new questions-and-answer section that is being added to this column. While I can't guarantee I'll know the answers, I can guarantee that I'll try to find someone who can address your problem or query.

Chances are if you have a question, you aren't the only person who seeks the same answer. Send your questions and suggestions to the e-mail address at the end of this column.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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