Internet filtering plan misses mark, critics say
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON The Internet-filtering software pushed by Congress
to protect children from smut online is blocking far more than pornography. It
accidentally screens out innocent content like a Virginia lawyer's home page
and a Texas home inspector's Web site.
The software's uneven performance puts a snag in the politically
attractive solution that Congress is trying to include in an education spending
bill, House Resolution 4577, before it adjourns.
The measure's supporters admit the tools aren't perfect and want
communities also to study other ways to combat child pornography on the
"We need to make sure we're looking at the whole issue and everything
that's out there. Filters won't be a cure-all," said Melissa Sabatine, a
spokeswoman for Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., co-sponsor of the legislation.
The White House and civil liberties groups worried about free-speech
implications of filtering oppose the measure, as does, ironically, the maker of
the most popular Internet filter. The bill's specific language impedes
innovation, the company called SurfCONTROL contends.
"Things that mandate specific technologies probably aren't the best
solution here. Let the free market decide, and let us improve these products
all the time," said Susan Getgood, a SurfCONTROL vice president.
SurfCONTROL owns the two most-used filtering tools, CyberPatrol and
SurfWatch. Its technology also powers America Online's Web filter.
"My chief criticism is that I don't think it's necessary because
schools are already doing what they need to do to protect their students,"
More than 9 million home users and 17,000 schools and school districts
use SurfCONTROL's products.
Peacefire, an anti-filtering group, set up the most popular Internet
filters to scan through the 1,000 active ".com" addresses. The study found
error rates in the filters, reflecting how many sites were blocked that should
not have been, of 34% to 82%.
Just filtering for sexual content, CyberPatrol blocked out four
obviously nonpornographic sites for each porn site it found. SurfWatch had a
similar error rate.
The blocked sites, including those owned by a lawyer and a home
inspection company, had no obvious triggers such as racy language, pictures or
double-entendres. Getgood could not explain each specific error, but suggested
that some of the Web addresses might have been previously owned by
Getgood said no filter is perfect, but all the sites CyberPatrol
blocks are reviewed by the company's employees.
"No one has ever claimed that these things will be 100 percent
foolproof," Getgood said, adding that the company still is improving the
product. "We've all gotten better. Your critics can be your best friends."
Bennett Haselton, head of Peacefire, said the filtering mistakes bring
up serious free-speech issues.
"When even one book is taken out of a library, people get outraged
over it. This is a case of hundreds of thousands of Web sites being
eliminated," Haselton said. "People don't know about it, because blocking
software companies don't tell customers what they block."
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.
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.
Congress passes Net filtering initiative
Clinton expected to sign measure requiring filters in schools, libraries; ACLU vows to challenge law.
Congress close to vote on Internet filtering for schools, libraries
But groups opposed to proposal say it is a bad way to stop minors from viewing online pornography.
Senate passes competing Internet filtering proposals
Bipartisan panel now must develop compromise measure as lawmakers grapple with how to best monitor Web in schools.
Arkansas legislator introduces Internet filtering bill
Measure would require public schools, libraries to install software to protect minors from harmful online material.
COPA commission expresses concern with Net filtering systems
'The safety of our children does not come at the expense of the First Amendment,' concludes commission member Al Ganier.