New law calls for Internet safety program in schools

By Jason A. Smith


Officials in Georgia are hopeful a new law will enable educators to better protect children from computer crimes.

State Senate Bill 474 went into effect Tuesday. The legislation requires the State Board of Education to develop programs to teach children to avoid being victimized by online predators.

One of the sponsors of the bill is State Sen. John Douglas (R-District 17). He said the need for such legislation has grown significantly in recent years, largely due to an increase in cases of identity theft and related offenses. "I think it is one of the most important bills [lawmakers in Georgia] did this year," Douglas said. "It highlights the extreme dangers of the Internet."

The bill calls for school officials to develop and distribute information to students to encourage safe practices when using the Internet. Contributing to the prevalence of Internet crimes, the senator said, are people who are "not who they say they are."

"When you're on the Internet, you're absolutely blind," said Douglas. "You have no idea what you're doing, or who you're talking to. There are evil predators out there, who are waiting for someone to come along, who will fall into their clutches. Our goal is to protect individuals and families from that happening."

In an effort to comply with the new law, the State BOE last month set the wheels in motion for the implementation of an Internet safety program in Georgia schools. To accomplish this, the board is taking its cue from educators on another continent, according to Dana Tofig, communications director for the Georgia Department of Education. "The program is based on New Zealand's award winning program, called 'NetSafe,' but ... would be customized for Georgia."

The program, said Tofig, will include techniques in professional development for educators to enable them to teach children regarding Internet safety issues. These techniques will be geared toward teachers, principals, librarians, technology departments, counselors and other personnel.

The Department of Education reportedly has high hopes for the NetSafe program in Georgia. DOE spokesman Matt Cardoza said the program will benefit educators, as well as the kids they teach. "Ultimately, we hope these practices will enable the school systems to educate kids, so [they] don't become victims of online predators."

No official date has been established for the program to be introduced in Georgia schools.