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Ideological Foes Meet on Web Decency
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Published: December 1, 1997
Five months after the Supreme Court struck down an attempt by Congress to criminalize the distribution of indecent material over the Internet, several family advocacy and civil liberties groups plan to use a conference in Washington to attack many of the on-line industry's proposed solutions to the problem.
The conference, sponsored by a coalition of high-technology companies and public policy groups, is focused on discussions of how to make cyberspace safe for children without new government regulation.
The idea is to rely on technology, education and existing laws to screen children from inappropriate material on line. Participants are expected to announce campaigns to educate parents, and initiatives to work with law-enforcement officials in prosecuting violators of existing laws prohibiting child pornography and on-line stalking. Several organizations plan to publish ''white lists'' of recommended sites for children.
But the thorny questions about the appropriate use of ratings devices and blocking software are likely to be left unresolved.
''What's happened is people realized this is a far more complex issue than anyone ever imagined,'' said Christine A. Varney, a former member of the Federal Trade Commission who is heading the conference, formally called the Internet/Online Summit: Focus on Children. ''There was a strong push from the White House to do universal self-rating, and that may be where we end up. But it is too early to tell whether it's a goal we all strive for.''
Some groups have already staked out positions at the poles of the debate.
Civil libertarians say that the Internet -- the medium the Court declared deserving of the ''highest protection from Government intrusion'' -- is at risk of being stifled by the voluntary adoption of clumsy technologies that block far more than just pornographic material. And since the industry's interest lies not so much in protecting free speech as in promoting free enterprise, some find the privatization of the issue troubling.
Family advocates argue that simply telling parents to monitor what their children watch or to use software programs that filter offensive material is not enough.
They say that schools, libraries and Internet companies should be moving quickly to apply ratings and employ screening technology on a broad scale, particularly as they maintain that on-line pornographers have grown bolder since the Court ruled that the decency statute violated the First Amendment.
The conference sponsors are unlikely to endorse one solution. But faced with pressure from the Clinton Administration, proposed new legislation from Congress, and customer concerns -- twice as many households with children own personal computers as those without, making them far better prospects as Internet subscribers -- the on-line industry is determined to find a way to ease the fears of some among the public.
''We want a medium that we can all be proud of,'' said the chairman and chief executive of America Online, Stephen M. Case, who plans to show new software that allows parents more easily to control what parts of his service their children can use. ''No issue is more central than making the Internet safe for families.''
The conference, with Ms. Varney presiding, runs through Wednesday and is to be the first of several national meetings addressing issues involving children. Sponsors include both opponents of the overruled Communications Decency Act, such as the Microsoft Corporation, the American Library Association and the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the act's supporters, like the National Law Center and Enough is Enough, another conservative group, based in Washington.
At a meeting with industry officials in July, President Clinton urged them to make self-rating of World Wide Web sites standard practice -- one of several technologies that would serve as the Internet analog to television's V-chip. To that end, several Internet companies pledged to support a rating system for Web sites that allowed parents to select the degree of sex or violence children can view by adjusting a setting on the browser.
Under the system, parents can also choose to block unrated sites entirely, a feature that critics say renders most of the Web invisible, since only 50,000 of the million-plus sites on the Web have rated themselves so far. About 5,000 new sites rate themselves each month.
Enthusiasm for that device appears to have dimmed since July. Most of the major news-related sites have refused to rate themselves under the system, which is administered by the Recreational Software Advisory Council, a trade association for video game and entertainment companies. And although three of the major Internet search companies agreed to encourage new-listings applicants to rate themselves, none currently do so on a regular basis.
''I am all for the industry collectively working for a common solution to protect from objectionable content those who choose to be protected,'' said Robert Davis, chief executive of the Internet company Lycos Inc. and one of those who had voiced support for self-rating. ''But the jury's still out about how to implement an effective rating system.''
How the Clinton Administration will react to such industry agnosticism is unclear. Vice President Al Gore is expected to address the conference tomorrow. But a White House official suggested that the Administration is not wed to self-rating.
''We didn't say there was going to be one solution; we said there ought to be tools that address the general concerns and that are easy to use,'' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ''This really is an interesting partnership between the private sector and the nonprofit community, and our view is we want to support this process and make this work.''
Congress may not take such an approach. Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, has proposed a bill that could make it a crime to misrate a site or not rate it at all. And Senator Daniel R. Coats, Republican of Indiana, has introduced legislation aimed at commercial on-line distributors of pornographic material available to minors.
Cathy Cleaver, director of legal policy for the Family Research Council, declared: ''The public needs to know what the risks are; they need to know about children's access to hard-core porn and pedophiles' access to children. You're not going to hear that from the summit. They want to dump everything on the shoulders of parents when there's so much more they can do themselves.''
The on-line industry, which saw the overturned decency statute as a threat to its growth, is similarly opposed to the suggested legislative measures. They contend that supplying parents with blocking software and rating sites to enable better screening is more effective.
But it is those same tools that worry a group of civil liberties organizations, which plan to announce the formation of the Internet Free Expression Alliance today. That coalition aims to identify both technological and legal threats to free speech on line.
For example, the Electronic Privacy Information Center intends to release a report criticizing a new service called Family Search, introduced by Net Shepherd, a Calgary, Alberta, company that develops Internet filter software. The company uses the data base of a major Internet search index, Alta Vista, part of the Digital Equipment Corporation, to process a user's search request, then filters the results through its own data base of rated sites.
Searching for ''Thomas Edison'' using Alta Vista, the Electronic Privacy Information Center found 11,522 references; the Family Search site reported just 9.
''If this kind of service becomes ubiquitous,'' said David Sobel, who conducted the survey for the privacy center, ''then a vast amount of valuable information is going to disappear from view, and in effect the Internet as we currently know it and as the Supreme Court described it will be destroyed.''
Net Shepherd's chief executive, Don Sandford, said the company chose to be ''very conservative'' in what it included. He said that its raters -- volunteer Web surfers who are paid a few cents for each site they rate -- had only processed about half the sites provided by Alta Vista so far. As they rate more, he said, the searches should return more citations.
Of particular concern to civil libertarians is that users of filtered search services or software programs like Cyber Patrol or Net Nanny, which promise to prevent children from bumping into offensive material on line, do not know what they are not seeing. Computer programs intended to screen out sexual terms, for example, may not discriminate between pornography and sex education.
In a recent report titled ''Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning?'' the American Civil Liberties Union contended that it would be unconstitutional for libraries, for instance, to use filter programs because they block constitutionally protected speech as well as obscene material.
Proponents of ratings argue that more sophisticated technology exists that would support multiple ratings schemes shaped by different value systems. A template known as the Platform for Internet Content Selection, which allows Web site publishers to rate themselves, also enables third parties to label them according to whatever gauge they choose.
Under that system, the Family Research Council, the American Civil Liberties Union, and those in between could have their own rating system, and parents could select whichever best fitted their own outlook. So could private Internet service providers, or governments who provide on-line access.
Since rating the Web is a daunting and potentially expensive task, the protocol of PICS, the Platform for Internet Content Selection, written by a group of computer scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been slow to take off. But working with Net Shepherd, groups like an Internet service provider run by a Roman Catholic charity and Singapore's state-run cable company are beginning to explore establishing their own ''label bureaus.''
If, as some ratings advocates hope, a variety of rating systems proliferate, legal scholars and civil libertarians caution that a whole new battle for free speech may follow on the dual grounds of law and technology, extending well beyond how to handle pornography on line.
''There's a danger that people will use PICS not just to protect kids but to create virtual gated communities, where members can screen out all speech they don't think is 'appropriate,' '' said Andrew L. Shapiro, a fellow at Harvard Law School's Center for the Internet and Society. ''And democracy doesn't work if you can turn off anyone you don't want to hear from.''

Lauren found this over Christmas Break because she was bored.~pathetic...


=Why Internet Filter Software?=
The Internet is one of the greatest inventions of all time. As our families become increasingly intertwined with it, the more active role we must take to protect our loved ones from Internet pornography. Although nothing can take the place of a well-informed parent that takes an active part in their children's online activities, Internet filter software adds a strong, additional layer of defense-giving parents an added measure of control and further peace of mind. Internet filter software gives you the ability to control content displayed, block websites and set up passwords. Powerful services like email filtering, popup blocking and chat room monitoring are just some of the tools available with today's Internet filter software-each designed to protect against and counteract the tactics of aggressive online porn companies. With so many Internet filter software choices available, researching and choosing the Internet filter that's right for your family can be complex and time-consuming-that's where we can help. Within this site, you'll find articles about Internet pornography, recent news stories, side-by-side comparisons and comprehensive reviews on Internet filter software that will help you make a fast, informed decision. At TopTenREVIEWS - We do the research so you don't have toT.

What to look for in Internet Filter Software

Even though the perfect Internet Filter does not exist in today's marketplace, there are a number of great solutions depending on your family's needs. Below are the criteria TopTenREVIEWS used to evaluate Internet filter software:
  • || Ease of Use – The most important attribute an Internet filter program can offer is an easy-to-use design, making it possible for people with all levels of computer experience to easily install and use the filter to its fullest capacity. ||
Effective at filtering – Top Internet filter software offers a good balance between filtering objectionable material and not filtering too much content. Another important aspect is the ability to customize the filter's sensitivity for each family member.
  • || Filtering algorithm – The best filter programs use a combination of filtering techniques, including URL filtering, keyword filtering and dynamic filtering. ||
Activity reporting – The most useful Internet filter software offer reports on what each family member has been doing on the computer, which includes websites visited, chat room activities and so on.
  • || Client-Server based – Good filtering programs offer a flexible platform which allows users to decide whether their optimal filtering solution is client (home computer) based, server (Proxy or ISP) based or a combination of both. ||
Foreign language filtering – Effective Internet filter programs offer the capacity to filter keywords in multiple languages. One of the tricks that many teenagers have discovered to bypass Internet filters is to type in the foreign language equivalent of certain keywords.
  • || Port filtering and blocking – Filtering programs should block or filter all major Internet protocols, including web access, chat rooms, email, peer-to-peer networks, bulletin boards and popup windows ||
With Internet filter software and proper supervision, parents can keep their families safe and sound from the ever-present problem of online pornography.
**Software filters for parents**Software for Parents (please contribute)
anna found this on http://www.wiredkids.org/safesites/filtering.html

Filtering and Blocking

We are often asked to explain the difference between filtering & blocking software
Since most major software products do both, as well as other things, the difference isn't important. It is important to understand how they work, though...In addition, few parents understand that they can purchase software that tracks where their children go online, while still permitting them free online access. We'll discuss this too...
Blocking Software
Blocking software is software that uses a "bad site" list. It blocks access to sites on the list. Some of the software companies allow you to customize the list, by adding or removing sites from that list. Other software companies try to keep the sites on their list secret, & don't permit parents to add or remove sites from the list.
Blocked site lists need to be updated regularly. Some software companies allow you to download updated sites daily. Others may charge for updates after a certain period, & may update their lists less frequently.
No matter how frequently they are updated, however, the number of web sites published each day far exceeds the ability of the software companies to review the sites, & categorize them for "bad site" lists.
Out of approximately 1.5 million separate web sites in existence (each web site may contain 2 or more separate webpages), only about half have been reviewed, in aggregate, by all child protection software companies. The gap widens daily. "Bad sites" will inevitably get through.
Filtering Software
Filtering software uses certain keywords. It blocks sites containing these keywords, alone or in context with other keywords. Software that uses standalone keywords may often filter out harmless sites, because of the inclusion of innocent words within those sites. "Butt" may be a preselected keyword, & software that doesn't filter in context, would block access to sites containing the word "button." "Sex" as a filtered term may result in the blocking of the latest web site for "sextuplets," or "Sussex," England.
The biggest problem with using keyword filtering is that innocent sites may be blocked. In addition, some web site operators have learned to get around the filtering by misspelling the typical keywords.
As with the "bad site" lists, the lists of keywords used by the filtering software should be customizable by the parent, & every parent should be able to see which terms are filtered.
Some software permits parents to select which kind of sites it wants to filter...such as tobacco products, or sexual content. Selecting the category of content enables a certain list of keywords unique to that category of sites, such as cigarettes, tobacco, & words that graphically describe sexual activities or selected vulgarities. One parent might choose to filter drug-related sites, while another may not. It should be up to the parent, not the software manufacturer.
Outgoing Filtering.
No...this doesn't mean you have an extra friendly software program (that's cyberspace talk for "grin" & means you're supposed to smile at my brilliant humor). It means that certain information that a child may want to share with others can't be shared. Information such as her name, address or telephone number can be programmed into the software, & every time she tries to send it to someone online, it merely shows up as "XXX." Even with kids who know & follow your rules, this is a terrific feature, since sometimes, even the best kids forget.
In my opinion, sharing personal information online with strangers is far more dangerous to children than seeing a naked body, or someone smoking cigarettes.
Monitoring & Tracking. Some software allows parents to track where their children go online, how much time they spend online, how much time they spend on the computer (off-line, such as playing games) & even allows parents to control what times of day their children can use the computer.
Many parents who find filtering or blocking distasteful, especially with older children & teens, find monitoring to satisfy their safety concerns. They can know, for sure, whether their children are following their rules.
This is particularly helpful when both parents are working outside of the home, or with working single-parents, who want to make sure their children aren't spending all of their time on the computer. They merely set a limit on the amount of time the child can use the computer & often "lock their children out" of the computer until they can get home from work.
Not all of these products, however, let the child know they are tracking them. I think that parents should tell their children about the software. It fosters trust.