What are the options for blocking objectionable sites from children?
There are many options available for blocking undesireable sites from children's eyes. Some are simple, some are complex, some have their own political agendas.
Internet blocking software has come to the forefront of the educational scene with the The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CIPA would require all schools and libraries receiving Fedral funds to utilize Internet filters. CIPA has been challenged in court by the American Library Association and several other groups. Librarians argue that blocking software impedes legitimate research and their libraries have been able to manage Internet access without the software.
Problems with many filters exist because of the simplistic nature of the systems. The Peacefire website documents some of the problems with these systems. One commonly used filter is Cyber Patrol. Yet, Peacefire documented that the following sites were blocked by Cyber Patrol:
- Catholic Students' Association--an organization of Catholic students in Denmark. Blocked as sexually explicit.
- Summit Presbyterian Church--in Butler, Pennsylvania. Blocked as sexually explicit.
- All About Omaha--a network promoting civic involvement for young leaders living in Omaha. Blocked as "Questionable/Illegal".
- "High Schools That Work", Ohio Chapter--an organization of administrators, principals, and teachers promoting school improvement in Ohio. Blocked as sexually explicit.
- AVSC.org--now EngenderHealth, promoting women's health issues worldwide. EngenderHealth.org is not blocked, but AVSC.org is blocked as sex education.
- The American Cancer Society--Cyber Patrol later said this site was blocked because its IP address used to be assigned to www.chinesesex.net. (The link does point to the current ACS home page, but Cyber Patrol Vice President Susan Getgood claimed in testimony before the National Academy of Sciences, in March 2001, that Cyber Patrol did not block sites by IP address.)
- First Day of School America--a nonprofit organization promoting parental involvement in schools and encouraging schools to allow parents to attend their children's first school days. Blocked as sexually explicit.
- The Windham Center Fire Department--educational information and history of the fire department in Windham, Connecticut. Blocked as sexually explicit.
The two sites that list "sex education" as the reasons for blocking the sites is disturbing. As the Library Media Specialist for a K-8 Catholic school, we do not block "sex education" sites specificially. When our eighth grade students are doing reports on abortion they need access to sites such as Planned Parenthood so that they can evaluate the arguments being presented. They cannot learn research and evaluation skills if they do not have access to opposing viewpoints.
Filtering software sells itself as a tool that allows families to customize its online environment. The stated goal is to give parents and educators the power to filter out objectionable online content and images without crippling access to fun and educational sites. These products have been profiled in many periodicals and websites. The glaring errors have been pointed out (as in the Cyber Patrol example). Other systems have been criticized as well:
CYBERsitter proclaims itself as the #1 Internet Filtering Software. The CYBERsitter company has come underfire from all sides of the filtering debate.
In June 1997, reporters at Wired and PC World confirmed that CYBERsitter had re-written their installation program so that when you tried to install CYBERsitter, it would scan your browser's cache to check whether you had ever visited the Peacefire Web site--and if you had, the software would generate a fake error message and refuse to install.
In January 1998, CYBERsitter sent a mail-bomb of about 500 junk messages to a lady in Massachusetts who wrote to them to complain about their blocking policies. Her postmaster was monitoring the incoming mail traffic at the time of the mail-bombing attack and notified network security authorities at MCI. News.com and Wired News covered the story of the mail-bombing attack.
Read about other software and options that work in schools and homes--Internet Options