INTERNET FREE EXPRESSION ALLIANCE
American Society of Newspaper Editors
February 9, 1998
To the Senate Commerce Committee:
As president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, I write to express our concerns regarding proposed legislation that connects federal subsidies providing Internet Access to public schools and libraries with an agreement on the part of the participating organization to install filtering software. Such a condition restricts a major use of the Internet by students and library users and defeats the purpose of newspapers' publishing their news on the Web.
The nation's newspaper editors support the idea that public schools and libraries should have Internet access as soon as possible. No longer will a student doing a report on current events need to rely on encyclopedias, periodical indices, and a limited supply of newspaper archives. Virtually unlimited information is available to the student in a medium with which today's young people are very comfortable _ the computer.
Newspapers are contributing vast stores of information for public use through their online units, a great resource for learning, both for schools and library users as well. A transplanted resident of Anchorage, Alaska, living in Washington, DC, can get instant news from his hometown by accessing the Web page of the Anchorage Daily News. A parent concerned with how local communities across the nation view this very issue of Internet filtering can search for newspaper articles and editorials to compare views and solutions from around the nation.
Federal subsidies can give students access to topics in seconds that formerly required hours or days of work. More and more of today's students will need these search skills in the jobs they take upon graduation. The Internet has the potential to enable libraries to return to their roots as the center of town culture, a meeting place where citizens can obtain and exchange the news of the day.
Current filtering software does not have the ability to discern between words within context. Articles on subjects such as breast cancer, AIDS, and human rights likely will be blocked because of language in those articles. Some filtering software would even block this letter based on the inclusion of the word "breast." This is unacceptable to anybody interested in the free flow of information and beneficial use of the Internet.
Technology is improving on a daily basis. Perhaps five years from now filtering software will be capable of blocking indecent material while allowing full access to research tools such as online news services. The current legislation, while well-intentioned, harms the ability of citizens, young and old, to fully benefit from Internet access. The promise of the Internet is too great to be hamstrung by legislation that is best left for another day.
Sandra Mims Rowe
Editor, The Oregonian, Portland