Commentary & Opinion
Choices About Internet Filters Should Be Better Informed, Opinion Piece Says
August 6, 2003
School officials and public librarians need to "understand how Internet filters work and make informed choices on whether to use them to block more than pornography," as the filters can also block important health information, including information on AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, Vicky Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, writes in a USA Today opinion piece (Rideout, USA Today, 8/6). The Supreme Court in June upheld 6-3 the Children's Internet Protection Act -- which requires public libraries that receive federal funding to put anti-pornography Internet filters on their computers or lose their funding -- saying that the law does not violate the First Amendment. A Kaiser Family Foundation study published in December 2002 found that filters set at the least restrictive level block 87% of pornography and 1.4% of general health sites. Programs set at the most restrictive setting blocked 24% of general health sites and 50% of sexual health sites. Among the sites blocked by the programs were a CDC site on sexually transmitted diseases; an FDA site on birth control failure rates; and a Princeton University site on emergency contraception (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/24). Three out of four older teenagers have gone online to look for health information, and almost 50% of them say that they have been blocked from nonpornographic sites in the process, Rideout says. In order for local officials -- many of whom are "woefully uninformed" about how filters work -- to make decisions about what kinds of sites to block, information about filters must be brought "out in the open," she writes. In addition, filtering companies should "provide more flexibility," create a default mode that only blocks pornography and create a single Web site where providers of online information -- including not-for-profit organizations that may lack monitoring resources -- can check to see whether their pages are being blocked, Rideout concludes (USA Today, 8/6).
This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.