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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 upgrades.

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 months.

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 through.

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 disturbing.''

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 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,'' 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:

Sen. Rick Santorum:

Search for bills at

AP-NY-12-19-00 1409EST

Copyright 2000
The Associated Press All Rights Reserved.
The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.
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