Friday Fun Link – Does Internet Filtering Work? (June 22, 2007)

In keeping with the topic of the day over at my other most favourite site on the Internet, LibrarianActivist, here’s a report on internet filtering from the National Coalition Against Censorship
which is admittedly, a bit dated, having been produced in 2001. But it
gives an excellent overview of many of the issues and problems being
discussed in the wake of the LPL's board to look at increasing the use of filters in their library. And an update of the report in 2006 shows that the same concerns with internet filtering software remain to this day.

Here are some examples of what happens when you filter:

  • CYBERsitter blocked a news item on the Amnesty International
    site after detecting the phrase “least 21.” The offending sentence
    described “at least 21” people killed or wounded in Indonesia.
  • SurfWatch blocked the University of Kansas’s Archie R. Dykes Medical library upon detecting the word “dykes.”
  • X-Stop blocked the “Let’s Have an Affair” catering company
    and searches for Bastard Out of Carolina and “The Owl and the Pussy
    Cat.”
  • WebSense blocked a Texas cleanup project under the
    category of “sex,” and The Shoah Proj-ect, a Holocaust remembrance
    page, under the category of “racism/hate.”
  • Cyber Patrol blocked a Knights of Columbus site and a site for aspiring dentists as “adult/sexually explicit.”
  • BESS and SurfControl blocked curriculum materials on
    Populism because they also contained information about National
    Socialism. Symantec blocked the National Rifle Association and other
    pro-gun sites while allowing sites associated with gun control
    organizations.
  • BESS blocked a site on fly fishing, a guide to allergies,
    and a site opposing the death penalty as “pornography.” It also blocked
    all Google and AltaVista image searches under its category of
    “pornography.”

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I haven't gone in to LPL to check this out yet, but London is found in Middlesex County. I'm curious whether the filters will allow anything with that word in it or not. Lots of community groups and municipal stuff could be blocked. (I think I came across this example a few terms ago in a lit. search for a censorship/filtering essay; that it is applicable to London is pure coincidence).

    Posted 23 Jun 2007 at 12:23 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    That's a really good point. The things that filtering software blocks just can't be predicted because, in the end, they are only computer programs following a logical operations sequence. They don't have the human ability to distinguish between “middlesex”, “sex education” and “hot sexxx” unless they're told exactly how each of these variations work. And no human programming the filter is going to capture every single variation that exists.

    Posted 24 Jun 2007 at 9:27 pm

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