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National News

Web Filters Block Safe-Sex Sites

December 11, 2002

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site on sexually transmitted diseases does not make the cut. Neither do the Food and Drug Administration's site on birth control failure rates, Princeton University's site on emergency contraception, or dozens of other health, safe sex and pregnancy sites. They are blocked by many of the most popular Internet-filtering programs installed in US schools and libraries to keep children away from online pornography, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. The report, "Does Pornography-Blocking Software Block Access to Health Information on the Internet?" is published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association (2002;288:2887-2894).

The Internet has become an important place for American teenagers and adolescents to learn about health and sexuality. "A lot of teenagers don't go to their doctors with sexual questions, because they're embarrassed or worried about confidentiality, and the Internet is an important way for them to get those questions answered," says Caroline Richardson, a University of Michigan Medical School-Ann Arbor researcher and coauthor of the report.

The Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000 required the use of Internet filtering software in all federally funded schools and libraries. The law was struck down as unconstitutional this year by a federal appeals court, but the Justice Department appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, and oral arguments are set for early next year.

The Kaiser study found that running the filters at their highest configuration results in blocking a large percentage of legitimate health sites, while only marginally increasing the amount of pornographic content interdicted by the software -- from 87 percent to 91 percent. As a result, the report's authors suggest using the software's lower settings. Richardson says that of the 20 libraries surveyed for the report, only one used its filter's least restrictive settings.

"There are valid reasons to be concerned about things like pornography, but it's important that we don't let those concerns thwart the potential of the Internet to give young people the information they need about their health," says KFF Vice President Vicky Rideout. Social conservatives, however, are likely to vehemently oppose any move to make the filters less restrictive.

Back to other CDC news for December 11, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Wall Street Journal
12.11.02; Yochi J. Dreazen

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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