Services & Software

Watchdogs launch attack on filter law

Free speech groups the EFF and the ACLU are stepping up their fight against Net filtering in schools, campaigning against a law that mandates no federal funding without Web blocking.

Free speech proponents are stepping up their fight against Internet filtering in schools, waging a grassroots campaign against a law that requires Web blocking as a condition of federal funding.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation () and the American Civil Liberties Union () are asking people to send letters to their public school board members and congressional representatives, urging them to fight the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

Libraries have already seen portions of CIPA that require them to block Web material by a special panel of federal and appellate judges. But schools--which must still implement filters or lose federal funds--are just beginning to grapple with the consequences of inconsistent and controversial filtering software.

At a small rally in San Francisco on Wednesday attended by a handful of free speech advocates and an equal number of reporters, the EFF offered a peek at its upcoming report, which found that the most restrictive filtering software products often blocked access to search results that included state-mandated curriculum topics. The full report, due for release next month, also found that filtering software blocked sites that contained pictures of state capitals, information on premenstrual syndrome and weight control, and the "Danny the Dinosaur" grammar game.

Standing in the hot sun on the steps of Mission High School, representatives from the EFF and ACLU, along with two students and a librarian, blasted filtering software for keeping out educational material while letting other content through.

"It prevents freedom of speech," Dinah Schender, a student at Burlingame High School, told the gathering. She said filtering software doesn't help students learn how to safely navigate the Web.

ACLU attorney Ann Brick said a law requiring filtering undermines the educational mission of schools. "Blocking software slams these doors shut with a big 'keep out' sign," she said.

Brick said she and others are waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the library part of CIPA before deciding whether to challenge the school portion in court. The high court is considering an appeal of the earlier decision to strike down the law.