What Japan's Asia Tilt Means

Cybersmut. Denizens of the Internet know there's plenty of it online, some of it tame, some of it degrading and disgusting. Cyberspace knows no geographical bounds, so Net cognoscenti can tap into hard-core images from anywhere, watching pictures that approach snuff movies in their grotesquerie.

Enter the children, probably the most computer-literate group in America. Comfortable with the technology, having grown up with it, kids prowl the Net, finding easy access to all kinds of hard-core porn.

Senator J. James Exon (D-Neb.) wants to censor the Net to protect kids. His Communications Decency Act, an amendment to an omnibus telecom reform bill, would make it a crime to transmit "obscene, lewd, lascivious, or indecent" images over the Net. Good intentions notwithstanding, Exon's bill is the wrong solution. Parental, not governmental, supervision is the answer. It's impossible to control tens of thousands of interconnected networks with information flowing among 30 million computers. It is not impossible for fathers and mothers to monitor what their kids do in front of

their computers just as they monitor their TV viewing.

Here's the solution. The three major online services, America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy, all have parental-control devices that restrict access, especially to chat rooms. They should use them. Parents can restrict kids from receiving instant messages and from conducting one-to-one chats in private rooms.

There's no way to stop the flow of pictures being passed back and forth as E-mail, but children who do not have their own screen names must first get Mom or Dad to get them online. Finally, cutting back on direct access to the Internet means curbing the raunchiest stuff. Don't give your kids a separate Internet account. Let them come to you.

The Net is already aflame with organized efforts to stop any government censorship. But libertarian principles, worthy though they may be, do not provide sufficient answers to the problems associated with pornography and children. There's no question that supervision is needed, but it should come from parents, not government acting in loco parentis.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.