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Congress close to vote on Internet filtering for schools, libraries

By The Associated Press

10.18.00

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WASHINGTON — Congress could vote this week on legislation that would force schools and libraries to use Internet filtering software or lose federal dollars intended to help buy Web access. But legislators' efforts to promote mandatory filtering are alienating civil liberties groups, conservatives and industry executives.

The filtering proposal would be a boon to companies such as NetNanny and SurfControl, whose popular software schools and libraries would have to buy. No money would be provided to buy the software.

Introduced in the Senate by John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rick Santorum, R-Pa., the plan is attached to an appropriations bill that could get a final vote this week. Reps. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., and Charles Pickering, R-Miss., are behind the effort in the House.

"This is insuring that the government is not paying for access to pornography through libraries," said Istook's chief of staff, John Albaugh. "We have received tremendous support from the public on this. It just seems like it's a no-brainer to the average Joe."

Under the proposal, any school or library that did not install software to filter out pornography would lose its federal dollars intended to help buy Internet access.

An odd collection of groups — including state chapters of the Christian Coalition and the American Family Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and Internet industry trade organizations — is opposing the initiative. The groups say it is a bad way to stop youngsters from viewing online pornography at school.

The proposal "fails to prepare our children to act responsibly as Internet citizens," the ACLU's Marvin Johnson wrote to lawmakers. "Responsibility implies choice, but blocking removes all choice."

"The filtering mandate sets a troubling precedent for federal regulation of Internet use and Internet access," according to a letter signed by the Computer & Communications Industry Association and the Information Technology Association of America, groups that represent the high-tech industry.

Teacher associations and the American Library Association also oppose the effort.

Mandatory filtering opponents say the filters are imperfect and frequently fail to block pornography. Sometimes, they say, the filters reflect a political view. At various times, filters have blocked sites that cater to gays and lesbians as well as conservative sites that contain language hostile to homosexuals.

Only one filtering company will release its list of blocked sites so parents and teachers can review them.

Internet filtering has been a priority of many conservative groups, including Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition and the American Family Association. "Children do not have a constitutional right to access and view Internet pornography in our local libraries," the AFA says on its Web site.

The groups have tried to mandate filters at some individual school districts and libraries. Most of the efforts have failed through legal challenge or at the voting booth.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is among the few legislators who have spoken against mandatory filters. His alternative proposal would require only that Internet providers distribute filtering software for free or at cost.

The Clinton administration opposes mandatory Internet filters. But the filters are included in the annual spending bill to finance operations of the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services, and it is unclear if President Clinton would veto the huge spending bill because of his objection to a small part.

Updates

Maine librarians first to join suit against Net filtering law
American Library Association, People for the American Way also to challenge federal law requiring that public schools, libraries install blocking software.  02.08.01

Free-speech, privacy advocates band together to fight new Internet filtering law
Groups say federal Children's Internet Protection Act places too much stock in unreliable technology that blocks legitimate sites.  01.26.01

Congress passes Net filtering initiative
Clinton expected to sign measure requiring filters in schools, libraries; ACLU vows to challenge law.  12.20.00

Internet filtering plan misses mark, critics say
High rate of erroneously blocked sites highlights serious free-speech issues with software pushed by Congress, says head of anti-filtering group.  10.24.00

Previous

Senate passes competing Internet filtering proposals
Bipartisan panel now must develop compromise measure as lawmakers grapple with how to best monitor Web in schools.  06.28.00

Related

'Tools' fail as strategies to keep kids away from Net sex at libraries
Ombudsman Paul McMasters testifies before National Research Council that effort to combat 'harmful' material does more harm than good.  07.18.00

COPA Commission: Educate police, public on online dangers to kids
Local, federal governments should spend more money training police to hunt down Net predators, panel suggests in report due to Congress next week.  10.13.00

Senate to consider another Internet filtering bill
'Always buried within these bills are the seeds of the First Amendment's destruction,' warns free-speech expert.  08.18.99

McCain: Libraries, schools should filter Internet to get federal funds
'When a mother or father drops their child off at the library they are entrusting the welfare of their child with the librarian,' says presidential hopeful.  01.24.00

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