Odalisque with a Slave by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

The problem with Internet filters is that there are many different ones, they all work differently and some people contend that they just don't work. They block some acceptable sites, and they overlook many "unacceptable" ones.

According to the Washington Internet Project, who compiled information from sources who wanted to prove the faultiness of Internet filters, sites such as Amnesty International, Banned Books On-line, The Safer Sex Page and the Religious Society of Friends were blocked by certain Internet filters.

Perhaps one of the most ironic, although not rare, cases was one reported in the New York Times in March. Jeffery Pollock, a congressional candidate and strong supporter of federally mandated use of Internet filtering software, had his own Web site blocked by Cyber Patrol, a popular filtering software. He promptly changed his position on the matter and joined the American Civil Liberties Union in their legal battle against the act.

Filters can work in several different ways. Some filters use software that quickly analyzes data on a site, so if certain key words appear, the site gets the boot. Others are analyzed by real people, such as America Online's filtering service. Another way filters can eliminate sites is by using a rating system. Sites can voluntarily rate themselves, and the user can set the filter to only allow sites with certain ratings.

According to Consumer Reports, who tested several filtering services, there are problems with all three methods. Filtering software will often reject a site just because it contains an objectionable word; obviously computers can't determine context. People can, however, but a filtering service in which humans analyze sites has major drawbacks. The service can either compose a list of forbidden sites, which would never eliminate all the unacceptable sites because it's impossible to find them all. On the other hand, if the service instead has a list of acceptable sites, that would certainly work to block out porn, hate and obscenity, but there is no way to find and include every acceptable site. And is a stranger qualified to know what one wants to or should see on the Web? Lastly, the rating system is, well, overrated. Some sites don't rate themselves as another might. Many sites including government sites like the White House site (the real one) don't rate themselves, so they are automatically blocked.

Common sense says that even if filtering technology improves, there is no way to avoid letting harmful material slip through and beneficial material slip away. But even if filtering technology were perfect, there is still a major issue. What role does the government have in determining what the public has access to, and what kind of precedent is this setting?


Author Bibliography Awareness Precedent Internet Filters Censorship