A blog about a possible internet filtering solution for libraries

Library Internet Filtering

Frankly, I think the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Children's Internet Protection Act case was wrong.
It is virtually always wrong to censor information, especially in a library. But that is how the law in the United States stands at the moment and if a library accepts federal funding it must install internet filtering technology on all of its internet enabled computers.

This website is about a particular internet filtering product IF 2K and its application to libraries.

This product is flexible, publishes its block list, is reasonably priced and it can be configured to meet library's particular requirements.

It is not a perfect solution but it is inexpensive and, with librarians' input, the least obnoxious filtering solution on the market.

Jay Currie

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Internet Filtering Google Style

Internet filtering, to meet even the most basic information ethics, needs to be overt.
Google Inc.'s recently launched news service in China doesn't display results from websites blocked by that country's authorities, raising prickly questions for an on-line search engine that has famously promised to "do no evil."...

"That's a problem because the Chinese people need to know there are alternative opinions from the Chinese government and there are many things being covered up by the government," said Bill Xia, Dynamic's chief executive. "Users expect Google to return anything on the Internet. That's what a search engine does."...

"Google has decided that in order to create the best possible search experience for our mainland China users we will not include sites whose content is not accessible," company spokeswoman Debbie Frost said Friday.
Internet filtering at the search engine level is Orwellian. People's internet access is being filtered without their consent or knowledge.

Google’s Chinese deal leaves Chinese citizens entirely in the dark.

The Chinese government is caught between its Stalinist inclination to censor, shape and edit the news and the reality that the internet is critical to the development and prosperity of China. So it slaps on internet filters on the server side.

“In order to create the best possible search experience for our mainland China users we will not include sites whose content is not accessible” silently eliminates critical information Chinese users may be looking for. Namely, the fact there is a website or a webpage which has information which the Chinese government does not want its people to see. A negative result is often as informative as a positive one. But an internet filter applied at the search engine/news reader level eliminates those results.

By acquiescing to the Chinese demand for seamless censorship at the search engine level Google may be making a smart business decision but it fails any sort of information ethics test – it is “doing evil”. This is the worst sort of internet filter because the user has no idea what the internet filter is eliminating.

Pretending to give full results without actually giving those results is fundamentally misleading. An honest approach would be to provide full results with a note (rather like the “subscription” notice on Google News currently) which indicates “site not available to citizens of the PRC”. At best, the edited Chinese Google search is a half truth, at worst, collaboration in a government sanctioned lie.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Blocking Blogs

Greyhawk, blogging on duty in Iraq, notes:
Looks like many GIs will have to rely on CBS and other such outlets for their news, since many weblogs are blocked by Websense, a company apparently selected by the Air Force to keep the troops away from objectionable material online.

I'm not talking about work computers either, these are in the morale tent, designed for use by GIs while off duty.

Which blogs, you ask?

Instapundit is blocked, Hugh Hewitt is not. Roger Simon is blocked, LGF is not. Daily Kos is not blocked.

Blackfive: Blocked.
Sgt Hook: Blocked.
Chief Wiggles (who was publically praised by President Bush for Operation
Give): Blocked.

My guess is Websense determines who goes on "the list" and the Air Force simply subscribes to a package. Those so inclined are urged to visit the Websense page
here and request these sites be removed from their list.

mudville gazette
It is remarkable that there is any blocking at all in what amount to public internet terminals - one would have thought that soldiers do not check their constitutional rights at the door. However, if there is to be blocking it needs to be 1) carefully vetted by individuals who can override the blocking company's decisionas, 2) equiped with an over-ride feature so that adult individuals can view constitutionally protected material.

So far as I know, Websense does not have a click through feature to allow adults to view constitutionally protected material. The ACLU might want to get onto this.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Phoenix rising

With Congress and the federal judiciary at a standstill over how best to protect children from Internet pornography at public libraries, the city of Phoenix, Ariz., has jumped out front on the issue. The city's new ban on web smut is also already the target of a challenge by civil libertarians....

"The (U.S.) Supreme Court ruling reaffirmed that porn is protected speech under the First Amendment, but it didn't rule that city libraries must provide access to porn," Gordon said. "You don't see pornographic books and magazines on library shelves. We're confident we'll win any court challenge to the new policy. It's the right thing to do and our attorneys agree, so we'll prevail in court."
The mayor, as many anti-porn folks are wont to do, is trying to draw an analogy between the internet and a given book or books.

Of course the proper analogy is this: we need to ban books in libraries because some books are pornographic.

The internet is not a discrete entity. The billions of websites, chatrooms, forums, messaging systems, P2P services and newsgroups which make up the internet cover every conceivable topic. Including porn.

Put another way - at the moment there are horrible videos of Americans being beheaded floating on the internet. Many news organizations, citing good taste, are refusing to show these videos. That censorship means many people have no chance to assess for themselves the authenticity of the beheading videos. But these beheading videos are part of the internet's information stream.

In the United States pictures of naked people or Islamic beheadings are constitutionally protected speech. Which means adults have a right to see those images.

The ACLU is going to challenge the Phoenix filtering by-law. The mayor is ready for them, " Supreme Court ruling reaffirmed that porn is protected speech under the First Amendment, but it didn't rule that city libraries must provide access to porn."

He is quite right, the Supreme Court did not require libraries to provide access to porn, nor did it require them to provide access to the internet. However, where a library choose to provide access to the internet it cannot pick and choose on behalf of its adult patrons which constitutionally protected parts of the net it will allow access to.

The good people of Phoenix might well conclude that beheading videos are so disgusting that the library has no obligation to provide access to them. However, because those videos are constitutionally protected speech, a public facility which denies access to them is clearly violating the constitutional rights of its adult patrons.

If the Mayor of Phoenix really wants to keep porn out of his libraries he can do it in an instant....disconnect the internet. That would be perfectly constitutional.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

50% of Employees get porn messages

According to the survey, which was conducted at 350 companies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, 28 percent of those questioned said they had downloaded sexually explicit content from the Web while on the job. U.S.-based employees were slightly less likely to do so than workers in other countries, Getgood said.

The survey also found abuse to be slightly higher in organizations with more than 500 employees. Of the 31 percent of employees who distributed sexually explicit material from work, 36 percent worked at companies larger than 500 employees; 27 percent worked for companies with 20 employees or less.
The Beasts!

But seriously, within any work enviornment there is a real issue going to unwanted sexually explicit material. Legally there is every reason to think twice about simply leaving the gate open for this sort of material. The not so "Safe For Work" screen saver can cost a company or a library thousands of dollars in damages and legal fees.

On the other hand, the same very useful article, notes,
E-mail filtering firm MessageLabs, which compiles statistics on virus-laden and porn-related e-mail, actually claims that e-mail with sexually explicit content has fallen sharply.

Last year, 1 in every 1,350 e-mails was porn-related. This year, the ratio is 1 in 4,700, suggesting that employees are being more careful because they are aware that many employers read their workers' e-mail, said MessageLabs spokesman Paul Woods

Even Intant Messenging is not immune from abuse..."Hottie at 10:00" looks safe until the "hottie" in question sues.

Security and control are what are driving the corporate filtering market at the moment. The 1st ammendment be damned in the workplace.

The public library is a third space, somewhere between work and home, and the filtering policies need to take account of this.

Sunday, September 05, 2004


There are plenty of reasons to use internet filters in a library situtation which have nothing to do with censorship.

The most important is security. There are worse things on the internet than naked breasts...worms, viruses, dangerous software, spyware. In a library situation, where there will be many individuals using the same computers, a filter for security using either the library server or a proxy server may be a critical part of the library security package.

Blocking sites which pose a threat to the securityof your server or your system is not censorship, it's safety.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Looking at my referrer logs I notice that this blog has a secret admirer over at another blog called Lingerie Dreams. (A very nice looking and rather well written site.) Now, should this sort of site be filtered?

It is an interesting question. In the course of showing and writing about lingerie there will, inevidably, be some pictures of naked breasts. But if that is the criteria then every fashion site on the net will have to be filtered.

CIPA does not require lingerie to be filtered as it is not, in itself, sexual.

But, and this is the critical but, how would a library seeking to comply with CIPA know if lingerie or fashion sites were being filtered if it could not access the block list of the filter it was using?


The July 1 deadline for libraries to certify CIPA compliance has passed. This does not mean libraries actually have installed filters; rather it means they have stated they have a plan to comply and that necessarily involves filtering.

To this point the debate, such as it has been, has been between hardcore free speech advocates for whom any filter is "bad news" and people who are either in favour of filtering or who are willing to take a more nuanced apporoach which recognizes that all filters are not the same.

The issues for the next year are all about implementation.

Libraries which chose to receive E-rate funding are caught between the requirement to filter for children and the legal requirement to turn the filters off for adults.

At this point the technical debate about filtering has to shift from the question of filtering or not filtering over to "how best to filter". The libraries which believe all filtering is wrong will have left the debate simply by failing to file their CIPA compliance plan.

From my perspective, the technical debate is fascinating. Essentially there are various brand name filters, Websense, N2H2, which are offering a library product which lacks transparancy and a simple capacity to turn the filter off. With these brand name filters a library is stuck taking the filtering company's word on the question of overblocking.

On the other there are various more open alternatives Kanguard being the leading example, which may be CIPA compliant and which have the virtue of publishing or granting access to their block lists.

Unfortunately, at this time there is no central clearing house for information on library's experiences with the various filters. This would be an obvious thing for the ALA to set up;but they haven't. Indeed, the ALA has said virtually nothing about filtering other than posting a long set of questions for Request for Quotations.

In the next few days a new forum for library filter users will be set up. This is designed to help librarians share their experiences with the various products on the market. Implementation, real costs, bugs and success stories - all of this is important as libraries consider which filter to use.

Effectively all of the technological arguments against filtering have been answered. Some filtering companies are making their entire block lists availible online. The "click through" feature for adults directly addresses the Supreme Court's requirement that adults have unfiltered internet access.

In a few weeks there will even be a filter which complies precisely with CIPA by blocking only image files from doubtful sites....the text comes through just fine.

Stay tuned.


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