The Internet has been in universal use for many years. It is a powerful research and communication tool, and it can be used for personal enjoyment. However, there is a dark side to the Internet. There is obscenity on the Internet. There is also explicit but legal material [. . . ]. There are bomb recipes, militia materials, hate speech of every stripemixed in small amounts with political, legal, medical, technical, and sports-related resources, the rock music fan pages, [and] the science fiction forums (Wallace and Mangan xii).
The Internet is not owned or regulated by one particular place or person; therefore, anything can be put up on the Internet despite the objections of others. The Internet has become a home for thousands of pornographic and explicit websites and other websites dealing with hate, violence, and terrorism. There is no universal definition of what is objectionable and what is decent. Children are exposed to objectionable material on the Internet everyday; however, measures are being taken to prevent this from happening. Internet filtering technology has become a growing industry during the past few years.
Internet filters are a type of computer software that identify and block objectionable content on the Internet, and prevent it from being shown on the screen. The Government has been arguing for years whether or not to require Internet filters in schools and libraries. This author believes that the Government should not require mandatory Internet filters and that schools and libraries should be able to choose whether or not to use them. Internet filters are not foolproof, and sometimes they can block more than what they are supposed to do.
However, filters still provide protection to minors and others that use them. To decide whether Internet filters should be required, it is important to know about the different types of filters and how they work and about the laws having to do with Internet filtering and Internet censorship. It is also essential to understand the advantages and disadvantages of Internet filtering and to know that there are other solutions to protect children other than filtering. Internet filters have been in use for several years.
They have mainly been used in schools and libraries, but many filters are being used in homes. The main reason for these filters is to protect children from pornography and sexual content. In her book, Karen Schneider says, Internet filters are mechanical tools wrapped around subjective judgment. They are designed to block Internet content [. . . ]. Some filters try to block keywords; some try to block individual sites; some try both (xiv). There are two main methods used to filter the Internet; they are keyword blocking and website blocking.
Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but most Internet filters offer the use of both methods, and the opportunity to disable each one (Schneider 3-6). Keyword blocking filters use pre-defined lists of objectionable terms. It is also referred to as content identification, content analysis, and phrase blocking. These filters search the website for certain words, usually words with sexual references, before it is displayed and then determine whether or not it is suitable for viewing (Schneider 3).
Because it has to search the page before it allows it to be displayed, it can slow down Internet viewing. The filters also assume that words can only be used in one way. Words that are used innocently or technically are automatically presumed to be objectionable (Schneider 4). The phrases chicken breasts or breast cancer could just as easily be blocked as the phrases human breasts or womens breasts (Schneider xv). Because of the keyword blocking filters unreliability, over six percent of blocked websites have been overblocked (Slobodzian B05).
Improving keyword blocking is almost impossible without first creating artificial intelligence that can understand that words can be used in different ways. However, Keyword blocking is the only line of defense against any website that has not been manually identified by a human content selector (Schneider 5). Despite the faults of keyword blocking, it still provides a high level of protection for children on the Internet. Website blocking, or site blocking, is a blocking method in which people review Internet websites and decide whether they meet the criteria to be blocked.
The websites are then put on a site list that the filter uses to block the websites. Internet robots are used to flag Internet sites that could potentially contain objectionable content for humans to review. However, many problems arise in this method as well. The Internet robots can still miss objectionable websites if the content strays too far from what is being checked, and the people responsible for reviewing the websites may not check all the subdirectories of a website if the top directory meets the blocking criteria (Schneider 6-8). Even using this method, websites can be overlooked or over blocked.
Another downside to site blocking filters is that the vendor is the one who chooses which websites should and should not be blocked. Some filters allow changes to be made to the site list, but most filters do not even allow the user to see the list. Luckily, many filters include a feature that allows the user to create a local site list to work in conjunction with the filters site list. Some companies allow the user to submit a request to make a certain website available that was previously blocked (Schneider 8, 31-33). Many site lists or so large that the websites must be grouped into different categories.
This allows the user to select certain categories to block and improves the overall flexibility of a filter. However, as with all filters, problems can arise. Different filters categorize websites differently. This affects which websites are blocked in certain situations. Websites dealing with homosexuality could be grouped into different categories like Sexuality, Lifestyles, or Adult (Schneider 7). It will only be blocked depending on what category it is in and what categories are selected to be blocked. There are three main types of filtering software.
These main types have to do with where the software is installed. The place where it is installed makes a big difference on how the filter operates and how much it costs. In most cases, filters of different types from the same company will seem like completely different products. That is because the function of each type is slightly different. The three types of Internet filters are client software filters, proxy server filters, and remote proxy server filters (Schneider 13-14). Client software filters are designed to be installed on individual workstations or computers.
The cost of these filters depends on how many computers on which the filters are being installed. One copy of the filter must be purchased for each computer, so the more computers being used, the less cost-efficient client software filters will be. These filters are ideal for home computers or for a small collection of computers at a home or business (Schneider 14). For large businesses, schools, and libraries, proxy server filters are more efficient. The cost of using a proxy server filter again depends on the number of computers being used; however, licensing is very cheap, which makes it ideal for large networks.
The filter only needs to be installed onto one computer, which makes it much easier to perform maintenance. All Internet access is directed through that computer and through the filter. Because of this, the proxy server needs to be a powerful computer with high processing speed and memory (Schneider 17). Remote proxy server filters are nearly the same as proxy server filters. Internet access is directed through a third-party or vendors server. Most vendors provide several servers so Internet speed is not affected when there are many users.
All maintenance is done by the vendor, which makes this very cost-efficient, even though it costs more per computer. If the user wants to run Internet filters on a large amount of computers while doing the least amount of work, then remote proxy server filters are a good solution (Schneider 15). Many Internet filters contain numerous other features that can be very helpful to the user. There are many forms of blocking besides keyword and website blocking that can be used in different situations. Protocol blocking allows the user to disable certain types of Internet services.
This can include the blocking of ftp, telnet, gopher, irc, or Usenet. This can be helpful in preventing hacking or bandwidth consuming activities. Many schools, libraries, and businesses choose to use protocol blocking (Schneider 9). User and client blocking are also very common. User blocking activates filtering for certain people or accounts. Client blocking filters only certain workstations or computers (Schneider 10-11). Using these types of blocking can allow libraries to target the filtering to minors. Another useful feature in many filters is time blocking.
Time blocking allows librarians to only allow library patrons a certain amount of time for Internet use. This prevents patrons from using the Internet too long so others may use it as well (Schneider 9-10). Time blocking is also very common in libraries. Many filters also include the option to warn instead of block. This feature allows adults to be warned about possible obscene websites but still allows them to access those websites if they choose. One of the most important features a filter can have is diagnostics support. This is simply the ability to find out why a page was blocked and if there is anyway to override it.
However, many filters do not have this feature or only give coded or limited feedback (Schneider 37-41). Many filters now also include support for PICS. PICS stands for the Platform for Internet Content Selection. It is a method that enables rating systems to be used on websites by adding certain codes to the website. The most common rating method, called RSACI (Recreational Software Advisory Council on the Internet), rates the website based upon nudity, sexuality, language, and violence. Filters can use this data to block or show the website based upon how high the rating is in each category.
Though PICS is not very widely spread, many people believe that PICS will play an important role in Internet filtering in the future (Schneider 63-66). As the Internet started to grow into wide use, the Government began to become concerned about what children were being exposed to online. Until the Government began to interfere, most libraries did not use Internet filtering. Many cases of minors being exposed to pornography began to appear. In the year 2000, Bill Clinton signed the Childrens Internet Protection Act (CIPA) as part of Federal Bill HR 4577.
The CIPA required schools and libraries that had federal funding designated for Internet use to install Internet filtering systems to block content that is harmful to minors. If they failed to do so, their funding, given to them by the Universal Service Discount and Library Services and Technology Act, would be taken away. This funding includes 2. 25 billion dollars for technology and Internet in schools and libraries. The CIPA passed ninety-five to three in the United States Senate (Borja 1; Dyrli 33; Slobodzian B05; Kellner 21).
However, not everyone agreed with the Government on this issue. The American Library Association (ALA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) both filed lawsuits challenging the CIPA (Slobodzian B05). Librarians around the country protested the CIPA. Congress claimed that the CIPA protects youth from pornography while the librarians claimed that it makes libraries choose between funding or First Amendment rights (Slobodzian B05). The First Amendment protects almost all speech, because there has never been an agreement about what speech is objectionable and what speech is acceptable.
Therefore, the First Amendment is interpreted to say that we will not make content-based distinctions of speech (Wallace and Mangan xii). Because of this, the opponents of the CIPA declared that it was unconstitutional, because mandatory filtering was blocking constitutionally protected speech. They also claimed that filters block legitimate and educational information from being viewed (Menhard 26; Dyrli 33). Critics of the law also said that the law violates the First Amendment, removes community control, and prevents students from using the Internet effectively (Borja 1).
Many felt that filters would cause the free flow of information on the Internet to cease (Kellner 21). However, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one out of every four children between the ages of ten and seventeen were exposed to unwanted pornography in the year 2000 (Dyrli 33). The law was made to protect minors, not destroy free speech. Pat Sullivan, the Assistant Superintendent for Technology at San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District, believes that Internet filters help protect students from hate sites, pornography, and other inappropriate information.
These filters can expand a learners world and even assist them in staying focused on their work (12). People opposed to online censorship claimed that free access to information is fundamental to a democratic society and that students and children need to learn responsible online use and behavior apart from the backdrop of filtering (Dyrli 33). However much the law would help protect children, the court needed to decide whether the CIPA was eliminating the basic rights of the people. In June of 2002, the Philadelphia federal court struck down the CIPA and declared it unconstitutional.
Because of the limitations of Internet filters, it is impossible to comply with the CIPA without blocking constitutionally protected speech. Libraries and schools are able to choose whether they want to use Internet filters (Kosseff and Barnett A01). Seventy-four percent of the nations public school districts use Internet filters without being required to by law, and despite the law being struck down, most libraries will still choose to filter (Borja 1; Kosseff and Barnett A01). Some people will protest libraries that use filters, and some people will protest libraries that do not use them.
The important thing is that the people have the decision to decide, not the Government. The CIPA was not the first law that tried to censor the Internet. In 1997, Senator James Exon from Nebraska sponsored an amendment to the Telecommunications Act called the Communication Decency Act (CDA). This amendment criminalized the transmission of obscene or indecent messages to a recipient under the age of eighteen. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged this law as well (Simon 153). There was a large debate about this law in the Senate.
In the debate, Senator Exon said: If in any American neighborhood an individual were distributing pornographic photos, cartoons, videos, and stories to children, or if someone were posting lewd photographs on lampposts and telephone poles for all to see, or if children were welcome to enter and browse adult bookstores and triple-X-rated video arcades, there would be a public outrage. I suspect and hope that most people, under those circumstances, would immediately call the police to arrest and charge any person responsible for such offenses.
I regret to inform you that these very offenses are occurring everyday in Americas electronic neighborhood. (Wallace and Mangan 179) Despite Senator Exons remarks, the Supreme Court found the CDA to be unconstitutional. The Judge said that the Internet does not impose itself like other media types. Pornography does not usually just appear on the screen, the Internet user must go looking for it (Simon 153). Terms from the CDA like indecent, patently offensive, and harmful to minors are terms that cannot be universally defined.
The CDA attempted to outlaw speech on the Internet that was legal in real life (Menhard 29). Internet censorship was also an issue in other countries. Countries like China and Vietnam try to censor the Internet for their whole country. They use this censorship to stop citizens from getting information from certain countries as well as protecting their citizens from obscenities. However, they are learning that Internet censorship only keeps countries poor and isolated (Simon 149; Menhard 24-25). European countries also had concerns about childrens safety on the Internet.
They came to a conclusion much like our country did. The Government should not control censorship of the Internet; the people should deal with it themselves (Simon 155-56). There are mixed feelings about the use of Internet filters in school. Most schools, however, choose and support filters. As mentioned earlier, seventy-four percent of the nations fifteen thousand public school districts currently use Internet filters (Borja 1). Many schools complain that it costs too much to implement and maintain filters, and that children do not learn responsible use of Internet (Borja 2).
This author believes that school is not the place to learn responsible Internet use; it is a place to use the Internet for research and educational purposes. Parents cannot forget their responsibility to know what their children are viewing on the Internet anymore than they can forget their responsibility to know what television shows and movies their children are watching (Wallace and Mangan xii). Internet filters with the aid of teacher monitoring allow students to properly use the Internet and focus on their work. Some schools use a proxy server filter to monitor and filter all Internet activity.
They then use the data gathered from the monitoring to update their site lists (Sullivan12). However, filtering is not the only way to protect children from obscene content. Many schools have an Internet policy that the students and parents have to sign. If students are caught violating the policy, their Internet privileges can be taken away (Borja 1). Filtering in libraries is a more temperamental issue. As observed from the debates about the CIPA, many people wish libraries to filter and many people are opposed to it.
Classroom situations are usually safe for children because a teacher can monitor the computers, however, librarians cannot monitor all the computers in a library (Sullivan 12). The Internet has expanded library services, even small libraries. Using the Internet, libraries are able to conveniently offer databases, catalogs, and other helpful services. Library patrons want and need the Internet (Schneider xii). Internet use in the library should not be unguarded. Even though the CIPA was declared unconstitutional, libraries should still use filters or some form of protection on computers that children have access to.
Most libraries tweak filters to only block sexually explicit websites (Schneider xii). This is a very practical solution because people should not be able to access pornography where children can see it. Libraries also have to option of using privacy screens on the computers so people walking by cannot see what others are viewing (Kosseff and Barnett A01). Libraries and schools need to make efforts to protect children from viewing obscenities on the Internet, but the Government should not be the one to make the decision.
Despite their drawbacks, Internet filters can be very useful tools in protecting children if they are tailored to meet the requirements of the community in which they are being used. It is also important to understand that there are over 1. 6 billion web pages on the Internet and foolproof filtering of them all is impossible (Dyrli 33). There are obscenities on the Internet, but there are ways to keep them away from children without letting the Government take away peoples constitutional rights.