Young people account for a significant proportion of Internet users and are the first generation to grow up digital—many of them do not remember what life was like before the Internet. Children have access to the Internet in an ever-increasing number of settings, including schools, libraries, homes, community centers, and commercial Internet cafés. This growing access means that young people have at their fingertips a wealth of educational content that schools and public libraries of previous generations could never offer. Indeed, while a library's collection of books and journals may be limited by its budget and space, a computer terminal and a phone line place the entirety of the Internet at hand. Today's students can create multimedia school reports, express their thoughts by publishing their own web pages online, and communicate with peers living in other countries. Clearly, such ready access to information is a boon to anyone invested in improving education and empowering individuals through knowledge.
The Internet is not, however, without problems or controversies. The same qualities that make it a beneficial tool—fast access to information; a venue for a free exchange of ideas among individuals in a variety of geographic locations, with different life experiences and values; and the opportunity for anyone to publish content online—are also problematic. As the amount of information online grows, the skills required to find educational content on the Internet become increasingly complex (Keller et al., 2001). At the same time, the possibility that young people will encounter content that is misleading or perhaps inappropriate for their age and maturity is a growing concern for many educators, librarians, parents, and other people responsible for overseeing children's Internet use.
Public concern that young people may encounter sexually explicit and other inappropriate material online has been coupled with increased interest in the availability of developmentally appropriate tools and strategies, both technological and nontechnical, that can protect children from online content that they may not have the resources to handle. At the request of Congress, the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, jointly with the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, formed the Committee on the Study of Tools and Strategies for Protecting Children from Pornography on the Internet and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content. This committee was charged with the task of exploring the pros and cons of different technology options and operational policies as well as nontechnical approaches that could facilitate young people's positive Internet use and experience. As a part of the committee's work, it convened a workshop