Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project
Filters Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY
- 1st Amendment
- Internet Freedom
- Children, Protection
- - COPA
- - CIPA
- - CPPA
- - Child Porn
- - Child Porn, Reporting
- - Protect Act
- - V Chip
- - Deceptive Content
- - Sex Offenders
- - Privacy
- Filters
- - Notification
- SPAM Labels
- Taxes
- Reports
- Obscenity
- Annoy
- Good Samaritan Defense
- Notes

Filters have found themselves in a wide variety of policy scenarios.

June 2008: The FCC has initiated an proceeding to consider licensing the Advanced Wireless Service for broadband Internet access with a requirement of Internet filters.

Filters function by filtering of blocking based on some criteria. That criteria can be

The filters can be built and maintained by private services, who then market the filtering service as blocking pursuant to the criteria of different communities. While some of these service's databases can be built as a result of human analysis and inspection, humans are not capable of reviewing all of the content that is on or will soon be on the Internet. As a result, filtering services rely upon automated criteria in order to develop the lists of what should and should not be blocked. The automated process of identifying inappropriate content results in false positives (blocking of otherwise appropriate content) and false negatives (failure to block inappropriate content). [NAS 10] [COPA II.B.3] [CIPA I.A., II.A , II.B (discussing blocking of educational material)]. There are consumer reviews of filtering products, rating the effectiveness of different products. In addition, the effectiveness of filters are limited by the ability of those filtered to get around or defeat the filters.

Filtering services are private companies that select what material to filter pursuant to their own criteria. Those companies generally consider that criteria and the database of filtered content proprietary. They have been criticized for not being forthcoming about what they are blocking or their selection process, resulting in censorship without accountability or due process. [COPA II.B.3] [CIPA III]

It has been found that groups that are critical of Internet filters have been blocked by Internet filters:

Peacefire conducted a review of the sites one Internet filter, SurfWatch, blocked of the first 1,000 working .coms. According to Peacefire, out of 1,000 sites tested, 147 were blocked. Of those 147 blocked sites, 96 sites were under construction and did not have content, 42 were non-pornographic and did not have sexually explicit content and nine were pornographic.  According to Peacefire, this constitutes an error rate of 82 percent. A search of the Surfwatch (now SurfControl) Web site revealed press releases acknowledging - but not refuting - the Peacefire study. See also official government reports reviewing the effectiveness of filters.

Ashcroft v. ACLU, 542 U. S. ____ (2004) (COPA II)

"Blocking and filtering software is an alternative that is less restrictive than COPA, and, in addition, likely more effective as a means of restricting children’s access to materials harmful to them. The District Court, in granting the preliminary injunction, did so primarily because the plaintiffs had proposed that filters are a less restrictive alternative to COPA and the Government had not shown it would be likely to disprove the plaintiffs’ contention at trial. Ibid.

Filters are less restrictive than COPA. They impose selective restrictions on speech at the receiving end, not universal restrictions at the source. Under a filtering regime, adults without children may gain access to speech they have a right to see without having to identify them-selves or provide their credit card information. Even adults with children may obtain access to the same speech on the same terms simply by turning off the filter on their home computers. Above all, promoting the use of filters does not condemn as criminal any category of speech, and so the potential chilling effect is eliminated, or at least much diminished. All of these things are true, moreover, regardless of how broadly or narrowly the definitions in COPA are construed.

. . . . . " Continued

Ashcroft v. ACLU, 542 U. S. ____, slip op. 7-11 (2004). See also Ashcroft v. ACLU, Sec. II.A.3. Least Restrictive Means (Third Cir. Mar. 2003) (discussing filtering as an alternative)


USG Research to Defeat Filters

CRS Report to Congress, Internet Development and Information Control in the People's Republic in China, Feb. 2006

"U.S. government efforts to defeat Internet "jamming" include funding through the Broadcasting Board of Governors to provide counter-censorship software to Chinese Internet users to access Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) in China." . . . . .

International Broadcasting Bureau. The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), has promoted Internet freedom in China by focusing on its Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) websites, which are regularly blocked by Chinese authorities. In 2001, the BBG provided $100,000 to Safeweb Inc., a government contracted company that also had been briefly funded by the CIA, to set up proxy servers to help Chinese Internet users access prohibited information.53 However, within a year, Safeweb's technology was reportedly unsuccessful in protecting user identities.

Since 2003, the BBG has funded Dynamic Internet Technology (DynaWeb) and UltraReach, which have each developed software to enable Chinese Internet users to access VOA and RFA websites (see Table 1). Funding for these Chinese programs constitutes about three-fourths of the BBG's global anti-jamming expenditures, which are expected to grow by about 28% in 2006 from the previous year. DynaWeb's website is difficult to block because of "anonymizing" technology that regularly changes its numerical Internet Protocol (IP) address. Dynaweb president, Bill Xia, disclosed that earlier efforts to provide Chinese Internet users with unblocked IP addresses through an e-mail subscription service had failed because censors had also subscribed to the service, and quickly blocked those sites as well.

According to Xia, DynaWeb must evolve according to how China censors the Internet, and that "both parties can always implement new technologies to stay ahead and sustain the advantage." However, in testimony before the Congressional- Executive Commission on China, Xia stated that censors have a "brighter future," because China purchases the most advanced censorship technology from Western companies and has more resources than counter-censorship efforts in the United States.

Table 1. Broadcasting Board of Governors Funding for Counter-Censorship Technology in China


Source: Broadcasting Board of Governors.

As of April 2005, Dynamic's homepage was viewed about 90,000 times per day, while UltraReach allows approximately 4,000 visits and 30,000 page views for VOA and 2,600 visits and 28,000 page views for RFA daily.57 Visits to these sites reportedly rise when PRC censorship tightens, such as during the SARS outbreak of 2003. The BBG disseminates Chinese-language news summaries, some of which contain critical opinions or stories about China, to recipients in China via e-mail. These e-mails employ techniques that circumvent censorship and include IP addresses of proxy servers through which users may view VOA and RFA reports.58 Some U.S. companies are developing software for Chinese Internet users to circumvent the PRC government censorship firewall entirely. In February 2006, Anonymizer Inc., a company that specializes in identity protection technology, announced that it was developing anti-censorship software for Internet users in the PRC. Anonymizer's China program would provide a regularly changing URL which Chinese Internet users could access for unfettered links to the World Wide Web. According to the company, users' identities would also be protected from online tracking and monitoring by the PRC government. Peacefire, a free speech advocacy organization and website, has developed protocols for circumventing Internet blocking programs that can be used by Chinese Web users.


 Internet Tax Freedom Act Sec. 1101(e)(2)(C) Screening software.-The term 'screening software' means software that is designed to permit a person to limit access to material on the Internet that is harmful to minors.



Access Denied: The Policy of Global Internet Filtering
OpenNet Initiative
How to Bypass Internet Filters

Source: Internet Access to US Public Schools and Classrooms, National Center for Education Statistics, p. 12


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