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Internet

Advocates protest mandatory Net filters

Several privacy and free-speech advocates are jointly campaigning to oppose legislation that requires filters for online content in schools and libraries.

    Several privacy and free-speech advocates are jointly campaigning to oppose legislation that requires filters for online content in schools and libraries.

    The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and several other organizations and advocates are fighting a federal law that would require most of the nation's public schools to block depictions of child pornography, obscenity or other material deemed inappropriate for children.

    That legislation, part of an amendment to an appropriations bill passed in December, already has received criticism from free-speech advocates who say it stifles First Amendment rights. Last week, the American Library Association decided to file a lawsuit challenging the measure.

    "We think that legislation has some serious First Amendment problems, mostly because filtering technology is imprecise," said EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. "What ends up is lots of legitimate sites that have the right to be speaking and people (who) have the right to be reading their material are being blocked."

    In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the activists said filters often block the wrong content, denying access to constitutionally protected and educationally important materials that schools and libraries would otherwise provide.

    They added that mandatory filtering is discriminatory, as people who use libraries for Internet access often cannot afford home computers.

    "The blocking software law has a discriminatory effect on communities of color, whose use of library computers to access the Internet is central to bridging the 'digital divide,'" Ann Beeson, an ACLU staff attorney, said in a statement.

    The organizations are urging parents, teachers, librarians and administrations to adopt educational methods that assist children in navigating the Internet safely. The groups said they would share research by providing educational materials and consulting services to schools and administrations.

    "It's very disconcerting to see the United States government requiring schools and libraries--which are supposed to be places that are really strong on speech protection--to be making limitations on speech like this," Steele said.