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October 10, 1999 12:22pm
Porn On The Web
Source: Reuters
by: David Lawsky

(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. panel clashed Friday over whether pornography on the World Wide Web is a "good thing" that contributes to the economy, or a danger that sacrifices children on the altar of the First Amendment.

The National Press Club forum included representatives from anti-pornography groups, a lawyer who defends people in the pornography industry, a think tank lawyer who favors a broad interpretation of the First Amendment and a former porn film actress.

"Pornography on the Web is a good thing, " said Jeffrey Douglas, a lawyer from Santa Monica, Calif., who represents about 150 makers of pornography in the Free Speech Coalition.

He called pornography a "home-grown American product" that provides jobs, taxes and contributes billions of dollars to the economy.

At the same time, he said his group had a standing offer of $10,000 for the conviction of anyone producing child pornography -- and that the group has already paid the reward once.

But Donna Rice Hughes, who became notorious after evidence of an affair with one-time presidential candidate Gary Hart, spoke against pornography and called it a danger to children.

"Children are not safe on the Internet," said Hughes, whose business is speaking and campaigning against pornography on the Web. "The innocence of children continues to be sacrificed on the alter of the First Amendment," which protects freedom of speech.

Hughes and Douglas had wildly varying estimates of the amount of money produced annually through Internet pornography, but agreed it was above $1 billion. There's a good reason why the industry is so large, according to a former adult film actress.

"We've got what everybody wants, regardless of whether they want to admit they want it," said Gloria Leonard of Canoga Park, Calif., who also used to publish an adult sex magazine and is now president of the Free Speech Coalition.

She said that she too is concerned that children are protected from pornography. But that, she said, is part of a larger principal, which is consent.

"If you haven't consented it's an invasion of privacy," she said. Parents should be able to prevent access by their children to pornography, Leonard said.

But there are limits to what parents can control, said Solveig Singleton, a lawyer with the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Even if parents use filtering software and place their computer in the living room, "that probably isn't going to stop a really determined teen-age boy," she said. She added: "On the other hand, one can question whether anything would."

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