Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Senator John McCain
241 Russell Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

RE: CPSR Comments On Filtering in Classrooms

It has been recently reported that you favor requiring that any school receiving federal funding must also institute measures to block "indecent" Internet content. I am sure that you are aware that the filtering of Internet content has been the topic of much discussion and criticism in the past months with objections both in areas on constitutionality as well as functionality.

But apart from those general objections to Internet filtering, any law or regulation requiring the use of such software in schools has consequences beyond the mere trapping of content between the Internet and the user. In particular, such a measure:

- Requires schools to incur an added expense for each computer that accesses the Internet. The access subsidies that were written into the Telecommunications Act of 1996 were intended to make the Internet more affordable. Adding filters adds a cost.

- Is an added burden for schools without technical staff. Many schools today are providing computer training and network access on a knowledge shoe-string. Few schools have the funding to hire technical staff. Studies done on the use of filtering programs in libraries have clearly shown that these programs can be a challenge to install and configure. Even more importantly, they must be configured to work in support of the educational goals of the school, not at odds with them, and this is not a simple task.

- As the Internet matures, the need to block undesirable materials may well become obsolete as new technologies allow us to work better within this information space. Given the rapid rate of change of our networking communications, a requirement to block some content as part of school funding could quickly become an anachronism.

All of this is in addition to the fact that filtering programs have been shown to do a poor job of filtering out the intended material and often block access to desired materials. This places teachers in a position of trying to alter their lesson plans to compensate for areas erroneously filtered by this software.

In the fast-moving world of digital communications it is dangerous to attempt to legislate particular technologies. Other solutions are available including the funding of research into appropriate solutions to technical problems, and the development of cooperative efforts that allow educators to share their experiences in using the Internet in classrooms. Our nation's teachers deserve our support as they re-tool their classrooms for the 21st century. They do not need us to throw roadblocks in their way.

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility is a non-profit public interest group concerned with the impact of computer technology on society. Based in Palo Alto, we have nearly two-dozen chapters across the country. Since 1981 we have worked to educate the public, the media and members of government on the social consequences of technology decisions.