ACLU Fighting Internet Filtering
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Schools and libraries must begin using Internet
filtering software next year to protect children from pornography or
risk losing federal money _ thanks to a mandate approved by
lawmakers before they left town.
The requirement is raising concerns among free speech advocates
who say it violates the Constitution and, perhaps ironically, from
software makers worried that filtering technology is not a cure-all
for protecting kids.
``This is a mandated censorship system by the federal
government,'' said Chris Hansen, a lawyer for the American Civil
Liberties Union, which plans to sue in an effort to block the law.
After the law takes hold, ``no adult anymore can read what they
want at the library,'' Hansen said Tuesday.
Supporters believe the law will withstand a court challenge and
provide a reasonable way to protect children from Internet smut.
``We drafted it to make sure it was constitutional,'' said John
Albaugh, chief of staff for Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla. who helped
push the measure.
At issue is the Children's Internet Protection Act, which was
unexpectedly attached to a $450 billion federal spending bill
Congress passed last Friday before recessing for the year. President
Clinton is expected to sign the bill into law.
Any school or library that refused to install filtering software
on its computers would lose vital federal funds for technology
The measure's appearance in the larger spending bill surprised
those who had been following the issue _ some of whom didn't
discover it until Monday. Several versions of the
mandatory-filtering plan had floated through Congress in recent
The ACLU has made successful challenges to similar laws passed to
keep kids from seeing objectionable material online, including the
Communications Decency Act, Children's Online Protection Act and
several state measures.
But the censorship argument is only part of opponent's attack.
Opponents also say the filtering programs don't work, blocking
more Web sites than they should while letting some pornography sites
Recently, anti-filtering groups have shown top filtering programs
to block out sites belonging to human rights group Amnesty
International, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and a
digitized copy of the novel ``Jane Eyre.''
Supporters of the bill, including the office of Sen. Rick
Santorum, R-Pa., acknowledge the programs aren't perfect but say
that any protection is better than nothing at all.
The ACLU's Hansen disagreed.
``The First Amendment doesn't have a 'good enough' requirement as
part of it,'' Hansen said. ``Suppose we said it would be better than
nothing for someone to go into Barnes and Noble and burn every tenth
book. That sort of casual insensitivity to censorship is
The legislation states that the filtering software can be
disabled by a library administrator for adult use only for ``bona
fide research or other lawful purpose.''
A representative from the filtering industry leader also
disagreed with the bill.
``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, in an interview.
SurfCONTROL owns the two most-used filtering tools, CyberPatrol
and SurfWatch. Its technology also powers America Online's Web
``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,'' Getgood said.
Some conservative groups also object to the bill because it takes
local control away from communities who run schools and libraries
and doesn't provide new money to buy or maintain the software.
Last year, the town of Holland, Mich., decided in a local
referendum not to use filters in their library. The federal
legislation would override that vote.
The Clinton administration tried to soften the measure, offering
more choice to communities, but faced stiff resistance in Congress.
Presidential aides decided the concerns weren't worth jeopardizing
the entire spending bill.
The ACLU plans to file its suit next year after President-elect
Bush is in office. But another filtering opponent, Peacefire, is
offering a different solution.
It has released a program it says ``can disable all popular
Windows blocking programs with the click of a button.''
The bill is H.R. 4577.
On the Net: American Civil Liberties Union: http://www.aclu.org
Sen. Rick Santorum: http://www.senate.gov/(tilde)santorum
Search for bills at http://thomas.loc.gov