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FC: Consumer Reports gives thumbs-down to smut-blocking software
From: Declan McCullagh <declan () well com>
Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 22:34:47 -0500
Consumer Reports reviews the effectiveness of filtering software in its
March issue, which went online this evening. This follows a previous
article four years ago. Excerpt from the press release:
All the filters but AOL allowed at least 20 percent of the
objectionable sites through in their entirety. While AOL's Young Teen
control did the best by far, allowing only one inappropriate site through
in its entirety, it also blocked 63 percent of the sites that contained
legitimate content. Some of the blocked sites included the Southern
Poverty Law Center, a non-profit anti-discrimination law center; and Sex,
Etc., Rutgers University's educational site written by teens for teens.
The article itself:
In some cases, filters block harmless sites merely because their software
does not consider the context in which a word or phrase is used. Far more
troubling is when a filter appears to block legitimate sites based on
moral or political value judgments.
Prominent filters like Cyber Patrol and Cybersitter 2000 may make some
people suspect that value judgments come into play because their makers
refuse to divulge the blocked-site lists. In October 2000, the Library of
Congress ruled that such lists could be made public by anyone who could
decipher the data files in which they are stored.
To see whether the filters interfere with legitimate content, we pitted
them against a list of 53 web sites that featured serious content on
As ACLU Prepares Legal Challenge to Mandatory Internet Blocking, Consumer
Reports Says Products Fail Test
EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: 10 P.M. E.S.T.
Wednesday, February 14, 2001
NEW YORK--A new Consumer Reports test of blocking software confirms that a
federal law mandating the use of these clumsy products in libraries is
unconstitutional and unworkable, the American Civil Liberties Union said
"A federal law mandating blocking software in libraries makes about as much
sense as a law requiring a stranger to randomly pull books off shelves and
refuse to tell libarians or patrons which books are gone," said Chris
Hansen, an ACLU Senior Staff Attorney. "It gives parents a false sense of
security and it takes away control from librarians and their patrons."
Hansen said the ACLU expects to launch a legal challenge next month to the
"Child Internet Protection Act," a law that ties crucial library funding to
the mandated use of blocking software on Internet terminals used by both
adults and minors in public libraries
The ACLU said that blocking programs significantly reduce the amount and
diversity of speech and information available to library patrons, many of
whom cannot afford their own computers and Internet access.
In some cases, according to Consumer Reports, "filters block harmless sites
merely because their software does not consider the context in which a word
or phrase is used. Far more troubling is when a filter appears to block
legitimate sites based on moral or political value judgements."
"Librarians are uniquely qualified to teach library patrons how to find the
content they want and avoid inappropriate content," said Ann Beeson an ACLU
attorney who is lead counsel with Hansen in the ACLU challenge to blocking
software. "Our lawsuit will show that online education is a far preferable
and less restrictive alternative than clumsy filters."
A wide spectrum of organizations have opposed blocking software mandates,
including the American Library Association, the Society of Professional
Journalists, the conservative Free Congress Foundation and state chapters of
the Eagle Forum and the American Family Association.
The Consumer Reports article will be available in full at
www.consumerreports.org as of 10:00 p.m. E.S.T. tonight.
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- FC: Consumer Reports gives thumbs-down to smut-blocking software Declan McCullagh (Feb 15)