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Groups Announce Opposition to Filtering Mandate. A network of concerned organizations (including many IFEA members) and prominent individuals has released a joint statement opposing legislative requirements for school and library Internet blocking technologies. The statement came in response to legislation, signed into law as part of an omnibus appropriations bill on December 21, 2000, which requires all public schools and libraries participating in certain federal programs to install Internet blocking technologies (see below). (January 23, 2001).
Congress Mandates Use of Filtering in Schools and Libraries. On December 15, the U.S. Congress passed an appropriations containing the Children's Internet Protection Act (also available in PDF). The legislation would require schools and libraries receiving federal funds for Internet access to install filtering and blocking software. The measure is expected to be signed by the President. In related news, free speech group Peacefire recently completed a study that found that several popular Internet filters block websites of human rights organizations. The organization is also distributing a bypass program that can disable filters running on Windows. (December 19, 2000)
Internet Filtering Mandate Pending in Congress. Proponents of mandatory Internet filtering are once again trying to push legislation through Congress. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) have attached a federal filtering mandate to the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services (HHS). The "Children's Internet Protection Act" would require all public schools and libraries that receive federal funding for Internet access to install Internet blocking software on their computer terminals. More information is available from the ACLU, including an easy way to send free fax messages to members of Congress. (September 22, 2000)
Judge Issues Permanent Injunction against Cyber Patrol Decoding Program. U.S. District Judge Edward F. Harrington issued a permanent injunction March 28 prohibiting further publication of "cphack," a program that decodes the filtering program Cyber Patrol. Created by Matthew Skala of Canada and Eddy L. O. Jansson of Sweden, "cphack" discloses a list of sites that Cyber Patrol blocks and reveals the password used to enable the software. The judge suggested that Mattel, the manufacturer of Cyber Patrol, begin contempt of court proceedings against mirror sites that post the "cphack" software. The hackers settled with Mattel before a court hearing on March 27 and agreed to transfer the rights to "cphack" to the toymaker in exchange for legal immunity. A motion to quash the subpoenas (PDF) and an opposition to Microsystems' motion for a preliminary injunction (PDF) were filed and argued in U.S. District Court in Boston on March 27. The court's March 28 factual and legal findings are also available. (March 29, 2000)
COPA Commission is Strapped for Cash. The Child Online Protection Act (COPA) Commission held its first meeting on March 7. The panel discussed whether it can be effective with no funding and no federal agency to act as its host. (March 8, 2000)
Michigan Filtering Initiative Fails. On February 22, voters in the conservative town of Holland, Michigan rejected a ballot proposal requiring public libraries to install filters on computers. The measure would have withheld funding for the library unless it blocked access to sites containing "obscene, sexually explicit or other material harmful to minors." (February 23, 2000)
Judge Restrains Distribution of DVD Content Scrambling System. The movie industry filed lawsuits in California, New York, and Connecticut to prevent Internet sites from distributing information about the DVD Content Scrambling System. A federal judge in New York granted a preliminary injunction January 20 against defendants who provided the decoding software on their Web sites, and a California judge granted a preliminary injunction the following day. The contended program, DeCSS, created by a Norwegian programmer, allows users to decode the encryption used on DVDs. The cases raise questions about the applicability of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Twenty-three free speech groups signed a statement supporting the defendants. (January 22, 2000)
U.S. Court of Appeals Hears COPA Arguments. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit heard oral arguments on November 4 in ACLU v. Reno II, the constitutional challenge to the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). In February, a federal judge blocked enforcement of the Internet censorship law, which would prohibit commercial Web site operators from exposing children under 17 to material that is deemed "harmful to minors." (November 5, 1999)
Conferees Consider Mandatory Filtering. House and Senate conferees are considering a House amendment to the Juvenile Justice bill that would require schools and libraries to implement "Internet filtering or blocking technology." IFEA members sent a joint letter to the conferees urging rejection of the provision. (September 28, 1999)
Free Speech Groups Criticize Proposed Internet Content Ratings. At the Internet Content Summit in Munich, nineteen civil liberties groups released a statement opposing proposed international content rating standards. In the statement, the organizations say that content rating standards "should be viewed more realistically as fundamental architectural changes that may, in fact, facilitate the suppression of speech far more effectively than national laws alone ever could." (September 9, 1999)
Senate Committee Approves Filtering Bill. The Senate Commerce Committee approved the Children's Internet Protection Act (S.97) on June 23. The legislation would mandate that schools and libraries receiving "E-Rate" universal service funds purchase and use Internet filtering software to regulate access by minors. The House of Representatives added a similar provision to the juvenile justice bill on June 17. The Internet Free Expression Alliance sent a joint letter to the Senate committee urging rejection of mandatory filtering. (June 24, 1999)
House Approves Mandatory Filtering Provision. On June 17, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Juvenile Justice bill that would require schools and libraries to implement "Internet filtering or blocking technology." The Senate is also scheduled to consider similar legislation. (June 21, 1999)
IFEA Members Write FCC Chair on Filtering Issue. In response to a speech delivered by Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard encouraging the use of Internet filters, 13 organizations wrote a letter to the Chairman urging him to present a balanced view of filtering software at the Commission website. (May 13, 1999)
FCC Chairman Urges Increased Use of Internet Filters. In a speech delivered at a conference on families and the Internet on May 4, Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard said, " we need filtering software for families to use on their PC's." An Annenberg Center study released at the conference describes the attitudes of parents about their children's use of the Internet. (5/14/99)
Report Details Effects of Utah School Filter. The Censorware Project has released a report that examines the state of Utah's use of a commercial internet censoring product in all Utah public schools and some public libraries. It finds that the material blocked includes the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, all of Shakespeare's plays, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. See coverage from the Salt Lake Tribune. (3/24/99)
Library Commission Rejects Mandatory Filters. In a significant setback for proponents of mandatory Internet filtering in public libraries, the National Commission on Libraries & Information Science (NCLIS) has recommended the adoption of local library "acceptable use" policies rather than national filtering requirements. The NCLIS recommendations (PDF format) adopt many of the conclusions proposed by the Internet Free Expression Alliance in a joint submission to the Commission last December. (2/25/99)
Internet Commission Members Named Despite Legal Challenge to COPA. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has appointed members to the "Commission on Online Child Protection," the body created by the COPA law that was recently enjoined by a federal court (see below). Check the coverage from the Freedom Forum for complete details. (2/8/99)
Judge Blocks Internet Censorship Law. Judge Lowell Reed of the United States District Court in Philadelphia has entered a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), the statutory successor to the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The full text of the decision and other documents are available at the Electronic Privacy Information Center's COPA Challenge page. (February 1, 1999)
New Mandatory Filtering Bills Introduced in Congress. Two new attempts to restrict free speech on the Internet have been introduced in the 106th Congress. Both of these bills would force schools and libraries that receive any federal funds to install filtering software on their computers. In the House, Rep. Franks (R-NJ) has introduced HR 368, the so-called "Safe Schools Internet Act." This bill would require public elementary and secondary schools to install clumsy blocking software on all of their computer terminals with Internet access. It would also force public libraries to install blocking software on one or more computer terminals with Internet access. In the Senate, John McCain (R-AZ) has introduced S. 97, the so-called "Children's Internet Protection Act," which is a new version of the Internet filtering proposal he sponsored in the last Congress. See the American Civil Liberties Union's information on the bills. (1/28/99)
Library Internet Filtering Declared Unconstitutional. The use of Internet filtering software on public library computers violates the First Amendment, according to a federal judge in Virginia. The groundbreaking decision was issued in Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library. The text of the decision is available online. (11/24/98)
Court Blocks Internet Censorship Law. A federal court in Philadelphia has issued a temporary restraining order enjoining enforcement of the "Child Online Protection Act" until at least December 4. The court order applies to all Web sites. See plaintiffs' brief in support of a TRO for details. (11/19/98)
Coalition Urges Reno not to Enforce Censorship Law. IFEA members and other groups have sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno urging her not to enforce the "Child Online Protection Act." The groups cite the harm to free speech and privacy that would result from enforcement. (11/4/98)
Suit Filed to Challenge Internet Censorship Law. The American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Privacy Information Center and Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed a legal challenge to the "Child Online Protection Act" passed by Congress as part of the omnibus budget legislation. The lawsuit was filed on October 22 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. The formal complaint is available online. Internet users can send free faxes to Attorney General Reno urging her not to enforce the new censorship law. (10/28/98)
House Approves Internet Censorship Bill -- The House of Representatives approved the "Child Online Protection Act" (also known as "CDA2") on October 7. The Senate previously passed similar legislation (see below), but the two chambers still must reconcile the measures before Congress adjourns. Two dozen organizations submitted a joint statement coordinated by the Internet Free Expression Alliance urging Congress to reject any proposal that would infringe free speech online. (10/14/98)
Senate Approves Internet Censorship Bills -- The U.S. Senate has approved two net censorship bills as part of a $33 billion appropriations bill. More than a dozen free speech and civil liberties organizations (members of IFEA) sent a joint letter to the Senate urging opposition to the measures. One measure would require filtering software in schools and public libraries that receive federal Internet subsidies; the other would make it a crime to allow children to access material that is "harmful to minors." See the text of the Internet-related amendments to the appropriations bill. (7/23/98)
New Filtering Bill in House -- A House Appropriations subcommittee has approved an amendment to the Health and Human Services budget requiring all public libraries and public or private schools that receive federal funds "for the acquisition of any computer that is accessible to minors and that has access to the Internet" to install software that is "designed to prevent minors from obtaining access to any obscene information." See the New York Times' coverage for details. (6/29/98)
New ACLU White Paper Released -- "Censorship In a Box: Why Blocking Software is Wrong for Public Libraries" (6/17/98)
On March 12, 1998, the Senate Commerce Committee approved the "Internet School Filtering Act" (S. 1619). The bill would require schools and libraries receiving federal "e-rate" Internet subsidies to certify that they are using filtering software designed to prevent minors from accessing "inappropriate" material.
The bill raises serious constitutional questions. In a decision issued on April 7, a federal judge in Virginia rejected an effort to dismiss a challenge to Internet filtering at a public library, finding that "the Library Board may not adopt and enforce content-based restrictions on access to protected Internet speech" unless it meets the highest level of constitutional scrutiny.
On July 22,1998, the Senate approved the measure as part of the Commerce, Justice and State Departments appropriations bill.
* Letter from IFEA members concerning the legislation. *
In a press release issued on January 20, 1998, Senator John McCain (Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee) announced that he " will introduce legislation to make sure that schools receiving federally-established Internet subsidies limit students' access to indecent Internet material in the classroom." An Arizona Star article discusses the proposal.
Sen. McCain introduced the "Internet School Filtering Act" (S. 1619) on February 9, 1998, and issued a press release describing the bill..
Statements on the McCain proposal have been issued by the following IFEA members:
- American Civil Liberties Union
- American Society of Newspaper Editors
- Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Electronic Privacy Information Center
- Feminists for Free Expression
- Journalism Education Association
- National Coalition Against Censorship
- National Campaign for Freedom of Expression
- People for the American Way
Statements opposing the proposal were also submitted by the American Library Association and the National Education Association.
See coverage from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Times, Wired News and USA Today.
On March 12, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a second Internet censorship bill. Sponsored by Sen. Dan Coats, the bill -- S. 1482 -- has been dubbed "CDA II." It would criminalize the "commercial" distribution on websites of material that is "harmful to minors" on the Internet.
On July 22, the Senate approved the measure as part of the Commerce, Justice and State Departments appropriations bill.
* Letter from IFEA members concerning the legislation. *
On October 21, the President signed the omnibus budget legislation, which included the "Child Online Protection Act" -- the bill that grew out of the original "CDA II" proposal. A constitutional lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia challenging the new censorship law.
On November 19, the Court issued a temporary restraining order enjoining enforcement of the Act until at least December 4. The court order applies to all Web sites. See plaintiffs' brief in support of a TRO for details.
Media Advisory: Press Conference Announcing Formation of IFEA (12/1/97). Statements were issued by the following member organizations:
- American Civil Liberties Union (12/1/97)
- Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (12/1/97)
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (12/1/97)
- Electronic Privacy Information Center (12/1/97)
- National Campaign for Freedom of Expression (12/1/97)
- National Coalition Against Censorship (12/1/97)
- Society of Professional Journalists (12/1/97)
C-SPAN carried the IFEA press conference live on December 1. Both RealAudio and RealVideo coverage of the conference is available.
"Coalition Forms to Debate Rating of Net Content" -- Yahoo! Internet Life (11/26/97)
"Lobbying on Eve of Clinton Net Summit" -- Wired News (12/1/97)
"The Battle for Kids Begins" -- Inter@ctive Week (12/1/97)
Several IFEA member organizations participated in the "Filters and Ratings" panel at the Internet Online Summit on December 2, 1997. Listen to it on RealAudio.
"Voluntary Curbs on Net Gain Backing" -- Washington Post (12/1/97)
"Conference on Children and Net Finds Little Consensus" -- New York Times (12/2/97)
"A Game of Hide vs. Seek: There's No Consensus About Systems for Rating Internet Sites" -- Washington Post (12/3/97)
NEWS.COM "Perspective" on the Internet Online Summit (12/3/97)
"The Danger of Private Cybercops" -- New York Times Op-Ed (12/4/97)
"The Self-Appointed Cops of the Information Age" -- New York Times (12/7/97)
"Why Johnnie Can't Surf" -- TIME Magazine (12/15/97)
"Censorship Problems Increase When Moved to Private Sector" -- New York Times (12/15/97)
"Rules for Filtering Web Content Cause Dispute" -- New York Times (1/19/98)