Shhhh! Can’t You See We’re Watching Porn?

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Source: The Industry Standard

By: Deborah Asbrand

Libraries swear they forbid reading X-rated tomes. So why do they need federal laws that regulate what library card holders can view online? A press conference yesterday heralded the filing of two lawsuits that challenge the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which is scheduled to go into effect April 20. The media jumped on the easy-soundbite messages of out-with-filters, in-with-free-speech. But the pesky technology details of filtering went unchallenged.

Signed into existence by Bill Clinton in December, the Child Internet Protection Act requires schools and libraries to install filters that block Net access to images considered obscene or harmful to minors. The two suits, filed by the ACLU and the American Library Association, argue that the law violates the First Amendment right to free speech. It also regulates the viewing of adults as well as children, they argued, and contributes to the so- called digital divide by limiting the choices of people who rely on libraries for Web access. (The suits challenge only the library portion of the bill, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

As for how the limits are accomplished, the media let the bill’s opponents and supporters call the shots. ZDNet quoted the ALA suit as saying the law is technologically "impossible" to implement, given the dynamic nature of Net speech and the limitations of filtering technology. Is that true? And is it true, as the Inquirer quoted the director of Pennsylvania’s ACLU, that a search for the phrase "breast cancer" would block access to health-related sites as well as porn sites?

Reporters were mum. None raised the question of whether filters could be narrowed by adding in other linguistic red flags such as, say, "XXX!" and "Hot4U!" Comments in support of the bill also got the green light. The conservative Family Research Council, a defender of the child-protection act, was quoted as saying that wrongly blocked sites can be unblocked in a couple of minutes on user-based software and within 24 hours on server-based technology. True?

Outlets noted that the ACLU and the American Library Association successfully challenged the 1996 Communications Decency Act and the 1998 Child Online Protection Act on grounds that their restrictions on the Net violated the Constitution. The Inquirer added that those suits, too, were filed in federal court in the City of Brotherly Love.