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In some instances, we located only one or two test reports; in other cases?for example, Cyber Patrol, Smart Filter, and X-Stop? Most tests simply describe the actual sites that a particular product blocked when Web searches were conducted.
In the interests of advancing informed debate on this important issue, the Free Expression Policy Project has collected and summarized all of the studies and tests that it has been able to locate on the actual operation of Internet filters.
As the report concludes: "Although some may say that the debate is over and that filters are now a fact of life, it is never too late to rethink bad policy choices." The report is available at:
Copyright 2001 National Coalition Against Censorship. Any part of this report may be reproduced without charge so long as acknowledgment is given to the Free Expression Policy Project. BIBLIOGRAPHY OF TESTS AND STUDIES EXECUTIVE SUMMARY In the spring and summer of 2001, the Free Expression Policy Project of the National Coalition Against Censorship surveyed all of the studies and tests that it was able to locate describing the actual operation of 19 products or software programs that are commonly used to filter out World Wide Web sites and other communications on the Internet. Its purpose is to provide a resource for policymakers and the general public as they grapple with the difficult, often hotly contested issues raised by the now-widespread use of Internet filters. They range from anecdotal accounts to extensive tests applying social-science methodologies.
Reports of over-blocking, of vague and subjective standards, and of politically biased blocking decisions continue, while industry spokespersons assert that their methodologies are improving and that new software programs designed to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable material will soon be on the market.
But no filtering technology, no matter how sophisticated, can make contextualized judgments about the value, offensiveness, or age-appropriateness of online expression.
The report analyzes almost 100 tests and studies of filtering products, and has hundreds of examples of egregious overblocking.
The "Children's Internet Protection Act" (CIPA), requires filters in most schools and libraries – for adults and minors alike.Nearly every one, however, revealed massive over-blocking by filtering software.This problem stems from the very nature of filtering, which must, because of the sheer number of Internet sites, rely to a large extent on mindless mechanical blocking through identification of key words and phrases.Third-party rating and filtering systems have thus become the industry standard, at least in the United States. erroneously claimed that its "X-Stop" software was able to identify and block only "illegal" obscenity and child pornography: an impossible task, since legal judgments in both categories are subjective, and under the Supreme Court's three-part obscenity test, determinations of legality vary depending on different communities' standards of "prurience" and "patent offensiveness." The late 1990s saw political battles in many communities over the use of filtering products in public libraries.Private software companies actively market such products as Surf Watch and Cyber Patrol, which contain multiple categories of potentially offensive, "inappropriate," or "objectionable" material. Some manufacturers market products that essentially block all of the Internet, with only a few hundred or thousand preselected sites accessible (so-called whitelists). New groups such as Family Friendly Libraries attacked the American Library Association (ALA) for adhering to a no-censorship and no-filtering policy, even for minors.The report presents this information in one place and in readily accessible form, so that the ongoing policy debate will be better informed about what Internet filters actually do, and their ultimate impact on free expression. Necessarily, there is some overlap, since many studies have sampled more than one product.