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Censorship Your Rights Online

Open Letter to the Family Research Council 261

Last month I shared with you some news about the pressure to install blocking software on the Holland library's Internet terminals. I promised to dive into the trenches of the struggle, and report occasionally to Slashdot on what was happening. There's been a lot to report, but more to do. Over the next two weeks I'll catch you up on what's been happening. Today, a peek into the heart of the matter: an open letter to the local Family Research Council, on the flaws of their favorite software. Click for more.

Last Wednesday, the library board opened up its auditorium for two and a half hours for three presentations on blocking software. The local branch of the FRC went first and put SurfWatch through its paces. They showed an unfiltered Internet on the left, SurfWatch on the right, and demonstrated how a search on "breast cancer" was successfully not blocked. Then they put child pornography on the wall of the library auditorium, demonstrating what SurfWatch would block.

For my presentation, I had brought a computer, but asked them if they would mind my demonstrating the software's flaws on their own laptop, to show I had not misconfigured anything. They agreed.

I spent much of my presentation talking about the size of the Internet and why most blocking was done by robots. Then I spent several minutes just listing some of the sites found blocked in some of our earlier studies at the Censorware Project.

Then I turned to the keyboard to illustrate some bad blocks. I ran out of time before getting to most of them. Some I did show but so quickly that many of those watching may not have realized what was going on.

Afterwards, Kimberley Fraser, who gave the Family Research Council presentation, asked me about some of what I'd said. I ended up asking her if I could respond to her in the form of an open letter. She agreed.

Below is that letter.


Dear Ms. Fraser,

As you know, at Herrick District Library last Wednesday night, your group gave a demonstration of SurfWatch's successes and then I showed some of its failures. I went through these failures rather quickly and didn't give the audience much of a chance to see the details of what I was doing.

You asked afterwards if I could provide verification of some of these points of failure, and I am delighted to do so.

First of all, regarding the colossal list of wrongly-blocked sites that I spent so much of my presentation reading, please consult our Web site. These wrong blocks were found in our reports on five other popular blocking packages: X-Stop, Cyber Patrol, WebSENSE, X-Stop again, SmartFilter, and Bess. You will find these reports at http://censorware.org/reports/.

There was some confusion in the question-and-answer period about whether these wrongly-blocked sites were also blocked by SurfWatch. Surely not all, and I have no reason to believe very many of them, are still blocked by SurfWatch or any other software. As I explained, when wrong blocks are publicized, they are usually unblocked quickly to minimize bad press.

Now, regarding the errors of SurfWatch itself. Note that some of its past errors are cataloged at http://peacefire.org/censorware/SurfWatch/. I am not sure whether I found time to describe those erroneous blocks or not.

In any case, here is information that hadn't been reported before. The following are all sites which I had prepared for Wednesday night, not all of which I was able to demonstrate. Please consult with your technical staff and confirm that each of these URLs and searches is wrongly blocked using the same category ("Sex") that you use in your tests and that you would recommend for public libraries.

http://www.gaydaze.com/sstory/curfantasy.html
"Daisies for my Wife," by Harold Roppers, a science fiction short story.

http://censorware.org/essays/sex_lies_jt.html
"Sex, Lies, and Censorware," an essay by my colleague Jim Tyre that is critical of SurfWatch.

http://intertain.com/store/browse.html
The bookstore at Intertain.com. Starting from that Web page, click "Browse," then "Love, Sex and Marriage." All categories of books on that page, 600 books total, are blocked, including books on domestic violence, natural childbirth, and African-American families.

http://www.wap.org/ifaq/sex/marriage.html
"Marriage." A humorous look at marriage through the eyes of children.

http://netdetours.com/archive/sex.html
"Sex and Politics: A historical look at affairs of state." A comparison of the Clinton sex scandal to scandals of other historical figures.

http://www.wwf.org/galapagos/booby.htm
The World Wildlife Foundation maintains information about the animals found on the Galapagos islands. SurfWatch refuses to let us read about the Blue-Footed Booby.

Searches on the following phrases are blocked, on (almost) any search engine:

safe oral sex
testicle cancer
sexually abstain
abstain from sex
sexual abstinence
no sex
Sex, Laws and Cyberspace (book title)
Smart Sex (book title, safe sex guide)
Voyeurism in the French Novel (book title)
Save Sex (title of both book and FRC poster campaign)

http://www.nytimes.com/library/arts/013000tv-voyeurism.html
"Television's New Voyeurism Pictures Real-Life Intimacy." The New York Times looks at shows like "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire." (In the question-and-answer period, one gentleman suggested that this page was blocked for a suggestive photo that appeared in the print edition of the Times. Please confirm that the Web page has no photo.)

http://www.rainbow.ch/chribru/chris/odonnell.htm
A Chris O'Donnell fan page.

http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/Spa/6834/
"Alternative Healing Resources: A Reference Guide for Balancing Your Mind, Body, and Spirit."

http://www.lesbigay.com/equal_rights/equality.html
"The Equality Project: Dedicated to promoting education and acceptance of all genders, sexualities, races, and religions."

http://www.magiccarpet.com/%7ecgrafe/diamondgallery/
"Diamond Gallery Sports Cards." Baseball and football cards for sale or trade.

http://dir.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Crime/Crimes/Sex_Crimes/Child_Pornography/
Four of the thirteen anti-child pornography sites listed on Yahoo are blocked. "All Against Child Pornography," "Anti Pedophile Network", "Adult Sites Against Child Pornography," and "Defence for Children International."

http://cnn.com/starr.report/
The Starr Report, in every place it appears on the Internet (this URL is just one example).

http://afa.net/Pornography/pornography.html
And finally, the American Family Association, which launched the pro-blocking-software initiative in Holland, is blocked.

I believe your technical staff will confirm what I have found to be true: that all of these are blocked as pornography by your software. Please let me know what your team says. Thank you.

Jamie McCarthy
jamie@slashdot.org

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Open Letter to the Family Research Council

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm going to provide you with an opportunity to become more educated than you are now. I hope you take me up on it. You said:

    "Likewise if you want live what I consider a negative lifestyle (like homosexuality) thats fine"

    Now...let me ask you...what is the homosexual "lifestyle"? For that matter, what's the heterosexual "lifestyle"? Is a homosexual who has been in a committed, monogamous relationship for ten years, "negative" compared to a heterosexual moron who has impregnated three women (or even GIRLS these days) and refuses to take any repsonsibility? And what about a homosexual who has never had sex? Is that "negative" compared to a bed-hopping heterosexual who screws anything with two legs and a vagina? What is inherently negative about a kid who comes to realize that he is more attracted to boys that he is to girls - or for that matter, a kid who has a crush on someone of the same gender? Has there never been a heterosexual who has abused, or even killed their own children? Are heterosexuals not prone to drug abuse, divorce, adultery, molesting children, and every other social malady that affects our society? Clearly, they ARE. So what's so awe-inspiring about a heterosexual "lifestyle"?

    Here's my point...homosexuality and morality have nothing to do with one another. Just as with heterosexuals, it's not what you are that matters, it's what you DO. Further, it's what people DO that determines their "lifestyle," not what they ARE. Irresponsible, stupid, sick, and certainly even criminal behavior is in no way unique the homosexual population. Come on down from your ivory tower and have a look - I know, you'll be shocked at you see, but at least you'll be dealing with reality.

    Then you said: "However if you get my kids, that I love much more than you, taking up that negative lifestyle too I'm going to get really angry."

    I wonder what they'd think after reading your post, followed by my response.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Not to mention how annoying that fucking software can be when you can't even read this comment because it was blocked since it has the word fuck in it.
  • Yes, but at least at our library, they aren't banned from walking around and looking at the rest of the books, either. By your library analogy, the browser should start at some kid-safe site like Nickelodeon or Disney or Blue's Clues, but still let them type in the URL of something else if they want it. :)
  • ...is that most (if not all) of it is based on a "black-list" model.

    That is, the basic assumption is that all sites are accessable except for a specific list of sites flagged as "bad".

    Perhaps a better approach would be a "white-list" model, where only those sites explicitly designated "safe" are allowed.

    I believe that Apple is working on such a feature using their KidSafe(tm) list.

  • These religious right people aren't interested in protecting anyone. They're interested in controlling what information children can get access to. They *have* to discourage independent thought in the early years; if kids start being able to go out and get a balanced view on life, sex, and religion, then these kids might start forming their own opinions. It's not just about pornography, it's about anything that leads to independent thought or the questioning of their dogma. You consider the blocking of "safe sex" or literary criticism sites is a flaw in the censorware ; these people consider it a plus. In their minds, you shouldn't be thinking about that sort of thing anyway, so it's better to err on the side of purity. After all, if you start looking at well-intentioned sites about how sex is actually good for you, you might start wondering if the things they're preaching at you are really all that valid. And we just can't have that now, can we?
  • I don't care where that line lies, just that it does exist. So lets ban the porn from libraries. I think we'll all live without it AND none of your rights are remotely violated.

    My point is that you and everybody else around have their own ideas of what constitutes porn. It doesn't matter where the line is drawn, it's going to piss some group of people off. I think it's better to just let everyone browse for themselves and be responsible for their own choices. If someone does something that violates local obcenity laws, then fine, that can be dealt with without any new software or new laws. Other than that, there shouldn't be any need for filtering. Parents should be supervising their kids in the library anyway, it's not a daycare.

  • There's a certain amount of decency you want to keep in a public institution, so that nobody is harmed.

    Harmed how? The AFA never responded when people asked what harm they were trying to prevent or what research they had that backed up their claims.

    Go to any college campus in the country and I assure you that viewing pornography on library computers is not allowed. I have yet to see one single student be vocal about such an issue. Are they embaressed to be vocal? I doubt it. I honetly wonder why.

    As long as the net isn't being filtered through some idiotic software program that is totally insensitive to context and doesn't let you know what is being blocked or why, I doubt they have any problem to complain about. If they did start looking at porn on the computer, they could easily be removed from the library.

  • Perhaps parents might have to become involved. . .

    God forbid that parents should actually have to take a part in raising their children and taking responsibility for teaching them about reality. Much easier to just block it all out and let them live in blissful ignorance.

  • Then again, I guess you can;t expect much from someone who uploads nudey pics of his 9y/o daughter everynight to usenet.

    I love it when I get to read a rational, intelligent, well thought-out response.

    I'm supposed to let someone who writes stuff like this, or people who share his viewpoint, decide what my kids should be allowed to see? Perhaps you think you know what porn is, but many people have a very different idea. Some would like to ban sites depicting women in bikinis or sites about homosexuality, even though they contain no nudity or explicit sexual content or imagery. I may not agree and I think it should be up to parents to decide what their children can see at the library. Remember, it's my tax dollars too. If my library doesn't have a book or magazine that I want, they can usually get it for me. I don't see any reason why we should rely on inconsistant, context-insensitive software to decide what we can see.

  • Why? Becuase there are, IIRC, 1 billion web pages, and it would not be possible to go through every single one. In addition, the web isn't static, pages that have already been white-flagged might later put up material that is inappropriate, and new pages are created by the second. BTW, Apple has about 50,000 pages "white-flagged", a tiny number.

    In any case, I'm OK with software for school libraries, but I really think it limits what the students can do. In our school, there is none of that, but there is always a teacher or librarian within eyesight, so it's not like anyone is going to be looking at porn. And if someone wants to read a page with the word "fuck" in it, I say let them.

    But public libraries are a different matter, and there's gotta be some way that people can look at what they want to look at. Now maybe a separate "adult" room would be OK, but it would have to be on a case-by-case basis. Anyway, I doubt most libraries would have the funds to do that.

    What people must understand though, is that not everything on earth has to be sanitized so that 6 year olds can see it. There are programs on network TV that 6 year olds should be watching, but it's the parent's job to make sure they aren't.
  • Call me a tight-assed conservative, but I don't think that the government ought to be subsidising the erotic arousal of others. I have seen (fortunatly not graphically!) or heard about adults and adolescents getting aroused by: greek statues, fine art, shoes, men or women in shorts or bathing suits, etc. as well as the more typical pornography. It is also possable to get romance novels at a library (some people find them quite 'stimulating'). Which of those do we block access to? Certainly I am not in favor of displaying Hustler in the children's section, but blocking software doesn't seem to do a very good job of selection by anyone's standards (if they have tested it anyway). All that I have heard of slip up and allow some pornography and block some sites that most parents WANT their kids to see. Interestingly, several have been caught blocking sites critical of the software as well. I suppose they just couldn't resist! I HAVE heard of people taking offense at a replica of Divid or Venus. Until the software improves it is not an answer. One viable option is to require parental supervision for children accessing the net. Possably, browsers in the children's area could be restricted to approved content (though building that list could be VERY time consuming and will inevitably have many omissions). Any answer other than requiring parental supervision is also a legal liability waiting to happen. No matter how harmless a site's content is, sombody somewhere will find a reason to be offended. If not that, a simple operator error will happen sooner or later.
  • The first sentence above was at one time a paragraph in italics, but they disappeared in the posted version. Oh Well.

  • They are out to install blocking software. And granted, you can prove that each kind of blocking software is flawed one way or another. But, can you meet them halfway-- Can you find a blocking solution that works and satisfies, I think, one of the essential requirements: Openly published block lists.

    I'd like to see some sort of push for blocking publishers to release their block lists. It would be icing on the cake to see explainations of why certain sites/services were blocked.

    The main argument against installing programs such as SurfWatch and all should be that censorship is being put into the control of corporations. And the libraries will now have no control.
  • The real point is that coming up with clear definitions is what is both fundamentally necessary, as well as wrenchingly difficult.

    It's easy to agree that there's some seriously nasty stuff out there.

    Pinning it down in a way that can be "legislated on" is the problem.

    Pinning it down in a way that provides useful "NetNanny" rules (or the likes) is even more difficult.

    It is crucial to keep from turning "automated censor tools" into some sort of deus ex machina, as seems to be happening.

    Oh, we'll just use some automated web-blockers.
    That pushes off the issue of deciding what is to be considered offensive to people that are minimally answerable to anyone.

    If there's to be censorship, it needs to be based on clearly deciding what is to be censored.

  • Look dude. I have seen many, many examples of sex outside of marriage. How on earth could I avoid it in our culture? And I am adequately convinced that it is not a Good Thing. Do you realize that couple having sex before marriage have something like 15 times the divorce rate of abstaining couples? Numbers.

    You have to have seen some of the stuff I've seen.

    I don't, however, want to see a crusade that involves keeping, say, gay kids from finding Web sites that tell them that they're not Sick, Weird, and All Alone (no, this is not equivalent to introducing them to pedophiles, say...).
    Did I suggest banning gay community sites? I challenge you to site an example where I suggested any such thing. While I disagree with the behaviour, I do not propose to forbid them concourse. What you present is a false dichotomy: you suggest that if we ban hard-core porn, we have to ban gay community. That is silly, and is a horrible misrepresentation of the issue.

    --

  • Fundamentally, there is a big problem with this argument, along with all the other anti-censorware arguments I have heard. Namely, it completely fails to consider the legitimate concerns of the opposition.

    Look at it this way. Let us suppose that you have a twelve year old daughter. Generally speaking, a twelve year old is old enough to walk the block from my house to the library unsupervised -- especially with friends. My twelve year old goes to the library, and tries to access the home page for the whitehouse for a report that she is doing on President Clinton. She goes to some no-name search engine, and types in "white house" -- and promptly gets directed to www.whitehouse.com. A hardcore (whatever that means) porn site.

    Now, I would hope that a daughter of mine would say "oops" and go back and look for another site. But given the current resident, a twelve year old girl might suppose that this was the real page :) (Okay, I couldn't resist). She then clicks a couple of links, and is suddenly presented with pictures of people defecating on each other. With page-jacking the high art that it is, this scenario is quite possible. And please remember that the content to which she will likely be exposed would be illegal if done in a public place: have you tried to have sex in the middle of your public library lately?

    Now, you say, ah ha! You failed to properly supervise your child! To which I say nonsense. I sent her to a public place, in daylight, accompanied, and she got to see something disgusting. Are you seriously suggesting that I should watch over my children, 24/7, until the day they turn 18, at which point I throw them to the wolves? That would turn me into the kind of ogre you love to portray me as! I would never give my children any freedom or responsibility, for fear they might see something "bad". Of course, my alternative is to expose them to pedophiles. What would you suggest I do? Don't forget that my tax dollars are paying for this.

    I'll tell you what I would do, especially if I'm not very bright: I'd demand software to protect my child, or else demand that the internet connection be removed from the library altogether. Which is exactly where we are. The only reason I don't demand this is that I place a higher value on free speech than is probably the average.

    As I see it, there are two arguments against censorware:

    • Censorship, censorship! Horse hockey. Nobody makes libraries carry play-boy. Why should they be force to carry whitehouse.com? What the aussies did might be censorship, although I doubt it. Filters in a public library hardly qualify.
    • But it censors stuff which shouldn't beThen do better. It's not complicated, just expensive. Spare me the rather sophistical argument about "well... who defines what should be censored". There is a reasonable common sense definition that can be applied and that most people can agree to. One of the key characteristics of it is that the work must have no redeeming social value. Show me a single picture on whitehouse.com that does have redeeming social value and we'll talk.
    • You're imposing your moral standards on us Darn right I am. But I think you will find that every culture which has maintained a moral standard has had one not too different from mine. Are you seriously suggesting that we should have no moral standards? Or are you seriously suggesting that our society does not have the right to set them? Do you really want to see people having sex on the floor of a public library? What about child molestation? Any NAMBLA [nambla.org] members out there? This is where we are going if this argument is taken to it's logical extreme. I am exercising the right I have to promote my moral standard: you can promote yours if you like -- but I do and will continue to think yours (free information at any cost) is wrong.
    Let me repeat: I am paying for this material to be in a library. I think the logical alternative to refusing any filtering is for those who object to it to campaign to close the library or never let their children use it. Is that really what you want?

    --

  • These cases you cite are not a problem: there is an existing "redeeming social value" doctrine (set by the supremes in US vs. Ginsburg around 1960 if memory serves) that adequately covers these cases.

    Yeah, the fundamentalists are going to lobby to ban all these. The problem is that by leaving it up to netnanny and obsessing with obscure examples (e.g. the canadien documentery) you are forcing fence-sitters who just can't deal with their children seeing defecation as a sexual act into the censorship camp.

    --

  • I just have one question for you sir: on average, how successful are marriages that start out by "living together, in a monogamous and trusting relationship" compared to those who get married, then start having sex? Look it up -- you wouldn't believe me if I told you. Also, it's funny how before anyone would have dreamed of "living together", divorce was rare. Sorry, your contention doesn't hold true to fact.

    BTW, biblically speaking there is no such thing as sex before marriage.

    --

  • The answer to this issue is that we should talk, openly and freely. We should educate and inform all those involved, both adults and children. Perhaps with that will we begin down the road to sanity on this issue...
    The problem with that idea is that, usually, when people mean "talk, openly and freely", they carry an expectation that I should "tolerate" their view. And usually, they don't mean "tolerate", they mean "condone".

    Look -- there are some serious moral issues surrounding sexuality. And Christian western culture is not the first culture to have found sexuality to be a moral issue. I happen to believe, with considerable evidence (having been around sexual brokenness recovery ministries quite a bit), that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is damaging to both society and to the people involved in it. And I believe that pornography is in and of itself harmful, because it encourages these activities, and encourages people to live in a 44DD fantasy world. And I would be horribly dishonest if I said otherwise.

    Do you seriously think I should suppress my honestly held opinion that pornography is a serious problem because you happen to disagree with me? That is what most people who sound like you expect to be able to talk "openly".

    For the record, I do not have a problem with open discussion of sexuality. But in this open discussion, people with convictions about their morality need to be free to express said opinions. Also, I have very little problem with nudity -- and if your first though on seeing the Venus de Milo is how someone could get off her (or Michelangelo's David -- equal opportunity here!), then I think you need help.

    Also, I would challenge you to show me how a "logical" morality can lead to anything but nihilism. How would a "logical" morality prevent me from murdering someone if I were convinced that that was my greatest happiness? It's been tried, and it has failed.

    --

  • I'm not even going to dignify this with a response. It is clear that you have an axe to grind, and will stop at nothing to grind it.

    Christianity, as a moral system, is not based in the fear of hell. If you think it is, thenyou know nothing aboutit.

    --

  • So what else is there? Blacklists aren't reliable and are inherently biased. There's no peer review behind blacklists. Using word filters leads to all sorts of trouble, including banning sites with legitimate redeeming content. Plus, I can easily get pornographic images of the most graphic and grotesque nature past a word filter. (Just name it "Tickle Me Elmo" or something and don't have a single sexual reference on the site except for the pictures.) Ratings systems are easy to circumvent. These are the technologies that the current filters run on, and they don't work.
    I disagree. I think blacklists can be done in a non-biased fashion. The problem is that we've left it up to commercial entities (who must keep the list secret as it's their whole business) who do it behind closed doors.

    The solution is left as a solution for the student. If you care about freedom, then I suggest you consider working on a project to make your own list. I would if I had time, but sadly I don't and must admit that free speech is less important to me than advancing the kingdom of God.

    --

  • Umm, there might be a slight selection effect here. How much of your exposure to folks who have had sex outside of heterosexual marriage took place outside "sexual brokenness recovery ministries"? There's more to "sex outside of heterosexual marriage" than Debbie Does Dallas or Marine Studs on Parade.
    Let's just say that I have had ample experience with "sex outside of heterosexual marriage" and leave it at that. (I have little desire to bare my soul to you so you can rip it to pieces). And you know what: you are a fool to suggest otherwise. If you think anyone is a lilly white virgin in this world, then boy have I got some people for you to meet. Christianity is a life-boat for sinners, not a bludgeon for saints.

    No, but I think you should realize that merely asserting that belief isn't necessarily going to convince people, and that if somebody starts with different axioms, they're going to draw different conclusions, and they may be very unwilling to allow laws based on the conclusions drawn from your axioms to be put into force.
    I do recognize that. Bowever, I am deluded enough to think the average person doesn't really want to see people getting shat upon. And if they want their children to, they can produce it themselves. Call me crazy.

    --

  • This does not block the howling horde from publishing lists of sites and keywords that they want people to never ever see.

    A large part of the problem is that the zealots keep their lists secret. They claim all sorts of things, but think about it. What if there were a list of sites posted by the zealots? A list of "evil sites" that "decent people" must never see?

    Doesn't that sound kind of like a McCarthy-esque blacklist? Or maybe a witch-hunt? A list of books to be burned, perhaps?

    This is part of the thing; the zealots are getting away with this because they're managing to make themselves look good. Force them into a situation where they have no choice but to show themselves for what they really are, and their position will start to weaken. That's one part of the key.

    People may be pretty lazy as a general rule, but most will fight when they see that their rights really are being taken away. People don't fight gun control because they don't see it as the taking away of any rights. It's also why many people don't fight things like flag-burning amendments. It's not too different here.
  • I cannot see how anyone, in their right mind, would object to placing some sort of blocking software on PC's in childrens areas of a public library.

    Hey, there was a YRO article a month ago ridiculing a mother who (gasp!) wanted to supervise her children's browsing.

    Hey, Michael! I was going to link to that article ("Banned In Jerusalem") but it seems to have vanished from the archives! Am I missing it or are the Slashdot editors doing a little censorship of their own? I'd think I hallucinated it but my out-box contains an response I sent you, including quotes from the posting.

    Anyway, I'm hardly a Christian Coalition member or an MPAA flack, but the impression that I get of the Slashdot party line is "If there is information or computers involved, anybody ought to be able to do anything they damn please. Except release software under a proprietary license." Honestly, if people here aren't complete hypocrites they're not getting it across to me, and I'm a pretty sympathetic audience.
  • Let's just say that I have had ample experience with "sex outside of heterosexual marriage" and leave it at that. (I have little desire to bare my soul to you so you can rip it to pieces).

    Umm, if you're referring to your personal experience with sex outside of heterosexual marriage, then that's not the sort of exposure to which I'm referring - that's one data point. If one data point is good enough, then, well, there's a couple I know, who were together for ages before they married, who seem to have survived the experience just fine.

    But one data point isn't good enough.

    And you know what: you are a fool to suggest otherwise.

    I wasn't suggesting anything about your personal experience. I was suggesting that one's experience with those in "sexual brokenness recovery ministries" is insufficient to draw a conclusion about whether "sex outside heterosexual marriage" is a Bad Thing; it's somewhat akin to concluding that eating raw food is always bad based on experience with those in the hospital due to food poisoning. As I said, there's more to "sex outside of heterosexual marriage" than Debbie Does Dallas or Marine Studs on Parade.

    Bowever, I am deluded enough to think the average person doesn't really
    want to see people getting shat upon.

    I don't think the average person wants to see that, either.

    I don't, however, want to see a crusade that involves keeping, say, gay kids from finding Web sites that tell them that they're not Sick, Weird, and All Alone (no, this is not equivalent to introducing them to pedophiles, say...).

  • Look dude. I have seen many, many examples of sex outside of marriage.
    How on earth could I avoid it in our culture? And I am adequately convinced that it is not a Good Thing.

    I'm not adequately convinced. The plural of "anecdote" is not "data".

    I'm also curious about examples in other Western cultures (and curious where they draw the censorship lines, what they do about Internet access in libraries, etc.; all too often, we Yanks tend to have an appallingly insular view of the world...).

    Do you realize that couple having sex before marriage have something like 15 times the divorce rate of abstaining couples? Numbers.

    Citation, please? I've no idea whether there are any selection effects in those numbers, for example, nor whether this is a case of "correlation is not causality".

    You have to have seen some of the stuff I've seen.

    Yes, there are probably Horrible Examples of Bad Things that have happened to people, possibly as a result of having had sex outside of marriage. There are also horrible examples of Bad Things that have happened to people in marriages, but I don't consider that sufficient evidence to condemn marriage....

    Did I suggest banning gay community sites?

    No, but all too many of the advocates of censorware would, I suspect.

    you suggest that if we ban hard-core porn, we have to ban gay community.

    No, I don't. I suggest that, if we need censorship, the lines need to be very carefully drawn, and that at least some of the advocates of censorship have an agenda, whether hidden or not, that involves drawing a rather wide circle around what they personally consider to be Bad Things.

  • I happen to believe, with considerable evidence (having been around sexual brokenness recovery ministries quite a bit),

    Umm, there might be a slight selection effect here. How much of your exposure to folks who have had sex outside of heterosexual marriage took place outside "sexual brokenness recovery ministries"?

    There's more to "sex outside of heterosexual marriage" than Debbie Does Dallas or Marine Studs on Parade.

    Do you seriously think I should suppress my honestly held opinion that pornography is a serious problem because you happen to disagree with me?

    No, but I think you should realize that merely asserting that belief isn't necessarily going to convince people, and that if somebody starts with different axioms, they're going to draw different conclusions, and they may be very unwilling to allow laws based on the conclusions drawn from your axioms to be put into force.

  • The problem with putting censorware in a public library is that it is public. Doing so implies that you either know what everyone passing through the library wants, or that you consider yourself to be morally superior to everyone else, a position I can't condone.

    It doesn't matter what 'everyone passing through the library wants', or on anyone's being 'morally superior' or anything else. It's up to the voters and/or the commities elected by the voters. My local library does not give me unrestricted access to back issues of Huster, and I don't expect it to give me access to bigtits.com either. If you want to let your kids view porn, fine, let them do it at home.

    can not see how anyone in their right mind can imagine that one-size-fits-all censorware is reasonable.

    A lot of folks can't see how anyone in their right mind would want their kids to look at porn without some sort of filtering or supervision. Everyone's a weirdo to someone else, I reckon'.


  • Alas, what a stifling culture we live in. How I yearn to run free and shit myself like I did when I was young!
  • I just thought I'd clarify that for everyone!

    : )

  • The default is full access--restricting access takes effort and cash.

    Good point, but I think the 'effort and cash' is worthwhile and well-spent. As a taxpayer, I will vote in favor of restricted access.

    Porn/freakshow sites are all but impossible to avoid in all but the most carefully worded search queries. Such sites would be an embarassment and a distraction in a library setting.

    If the software used ends up being an Open-source collaborative effort, all the better, but I don't buy the "right-wing fundamentalists are trying to take away our freedom" bullshit for a second. Grow up already!

    Freedom without restrictions is Anarchy.
    'Anarchy' (the real kind, not the spikey mohawk kind,) never lasts for long, as it is merely the first step to a new Totalitarianism.
    -K. Wilcox

  • I think it's a question of the lesser of evils. Most of the censorware software was created by companies that would probably make Ralph Reid (former head of the Christian Cohilition) drool. So that software is EXTREMELY biased toward the radical fundamentalist Christian viewpoint. Now, if you wanted to install such software on a computer in your home, while I think you are wrong to do so, it is your decision. On public machines it's a different issue. Sure, some libraries' childrens selections may be similarly biased, but I don't think it is quite so blatant or so wide spread.

    But when it comes down to it, I personally don't think the selection of what sites should be blocked should be the issue. The issue should be honesty and openness. My parents were always very open about discussing sex with my brother and me (even when we were very young), and I think we're both much better people for it. I think that every parent has a responsibility to be as open as possible with their children about sex. That way perhaps their children will not have so many of the unfortunate hangups and fixations with sex that most Americans seem to have. I believe that a part of that openness is a discussion of pornography. Don't forbid your child to view pornography. That will just encourage him or her. Instead, explain it to them and explain why it is wrong and unhealthy. Then hopefully they will not really have much desire to see it. And if they do, so what? If you have a healthy relationship with your children and you have spoken openly with them about love and sex, then they will not likely be harmed by it.

    Trust, honesty, and openness are always better than additional rules that just encourage infraction.

    Cheers,
    Perrin.
  • (In a truly perfect society, the children would not have a desire to search for porn.)

    That's an interesting statement that you apparently consider to be self-evident. Since sexual urges are essential to reproduction the human race would die out if people did not feel sexual urges.

    Children young enough to be at the stage where boys find girls repulsive and vice versa do not have the urge view pornography. I can only conclude that you are refering to "children" who are approaching adulthood and experiencing the beginings of the sexual urges that lead to the propogation of the species.

    Are you asserting that in a truly perfect society children who are approaching adulthood would not have a desire to search for porn? Is that because you consider a truly perfect society to be one where noone has any sex drive? Or is it because you consider a truly perfect society to be one where everyone is able to to get as much real sex as they desire and therefore has no need for "artificial" sex such as porn? If you believe the former then I submit that your "perfect society" would not remain perfect nor even a society for more than one generation.

  • So, if I understand correctly, the software solution being proposed will not even allow people to view the site of the organization that began this proposal process!

    Not their whole site is blocked, just the section that they've put together on pornography.

    Pornography is apparently so bad that not only should we not look at it, we should not look at other people telling us not to look at it.

    Jamie McCarthy

  • Do you realize that couple having sex before marriage have something like 15 times the divorce rate of abstaining couples?

    Isn't that a rather skewed statistic? Those who have sex outside marriage are presumably less influenced by external morality and therefore more likely to treat marriage as a legal convenience.

    Numbers.

    It's usually Romans, isn't it? ;)

    Hamish

  • Statistically speaking, statistics can be used to prove pretty much any point. I refer you to my earlier reply [slashdot.org], and reiterate:

    The correlation between divorce and extramarital sex is due to a decline in belief in the institution of marriage.

    Hamish

  • Look at it this way. Let us suppose that you have a twelve year old daughter. Generally speaking, a twelve year old is old enough to walk the block from my house to the library unsupervised -- especially with friends. My twelve year old goes to the library, and tries to access the home page for the whitehouse for a report that she is doing on President Clinton. She goes to some no-name search engine, and types in "white house" -- and promptly gets directed to www.whitehouse.com. A hardcore (whatever that means) porn site. Now, I would hope that a daughter of mine would say "oops" and go back and look for another site. But given the current resident, a twelve year old girl might suppose that this was the real page :) (Okay, I couldn't resist). She then clicks a couple of links, and is suddenly presented with pictures of people defecating on each other. With page-jacking the high art that it is, this scenario is quite possible. And please remember that the content to which she will likely be exposed would be illegal if done in a public place: have you tried to have sex in the middle of your public library lately?

    Let me be frank here. I would hope that my twelve-year-old daughter would have enough sense to say, "GROSS!!!!!", and shut off the website.

    Don't forget, I'm paying for what goes in that library too. I find most of this censorware highly offensive. I don't particularly give a damn that they're blocking pornographic images, if you're under 18 you shouldn't be seeing them anyway. What I care about is that some of these lists block legitimate sites, and in the most eggregious cases, even forbid the user from seeing words for legitimate and important concepts such as gay rights, breast cancer, Wicca, Atheism, Communism, or abortion. Whether you like these or not, your child should at the very least be able to discuss them and research them.

    So how does one design software to block pornographic images? That's a hell of a problem. The definition of pornography is based on a visual image. Humans are very, very good at interpreting visual images. Computers are not. Getting a computer to accurately tell the differences between different faces can take several minutes from a limited set of faces using very low-res photographs (I've done this myself using neural nets). Getting a computer to accurately recognize porn is computationally expensive and a memory hog. A 400x400 image requires 160,000 artificial neurons, one for each pixel, plus maybe a hidden layer of 100, just to tell if an image contains an erect penis or not. If each node takes 256 bytes (a severe under-estimate) then you need 40 megs of available memory just to run the neural network. That doesn't even take into account overhead with the plugins &c. And the program would be SLOW , taking about (again, back of envelope calculation here) three minutes to identify each picture on a 500 MHz machine. Try running that on your 500 MHz box running Windows 2000 and you're going to be deeply frustrated.

    So what else is there? Blacklists aren't reliable and are inherently biased. There's no peer review behind blacklists. Using word filters leads to all sorts of trouble, including banning sites with legitimate redeeming content. Plus, I can easily get pornographic images of the most graphic and grotesque nature past a word filter. (Just name it "Tickle Me Elmo" or something and don't have a single sexual reference on the site except for the pictures.) Ratings systems are easy to circumvent. These are the technologies that the current filters run on, and they don't work.

    Of course your concerns are legitimate. My problem with it isn't that you want to restrict kids from seeing porn, but that the solution proposed to you by the Family Research Council is snake oil in some cases and more than you bargained for (censoring legitimate content that the FRC happens to not like) in others.

  • I disagree. I think blacklists can be done in a non-biased fashion. The problem is that we've left it up to commercial entities (who must keep the list secret as it's their whole business) who do it behind closed doors.

    Firstly, I already pointed out that there's a way to create a blacklist in a non-biased fashion: peer reveiw. It takes a long time, but it would be worth it. Peer review is not done these days, because it is expensive; moreover, it is subject to bias, depending on who is doing the reviewing.

    Secondly, commercial entities do not have to keep the list secret in order to keep working. The secret isn't supposed to be what is censored, but how it is censored.

    Thirdly, the most efficient and effective way for me to advance the cause of freedom is to spread the word on what is wrong with these filters, rather than make my own. If I spend my time and energy making my own filter, it becomes just another product. One which, in my opinion, the FRC and other right-wing groups probably will not endorse, since it would block pornography but not necessarily other material that such groups find objectionable (such as gay rights websites.)

    Have fun advancing the Kingdom of God.

  • Obviously you're not mature enough to have a child yet. Notice I don't claim that you haven't gone and had one anyway...

    A parent who starts showing pornography to their children ought to be locked up in order to protect the child.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • Protect the child? From what? From who? Why?

    From exploitation by unscrupulous adults. From ideas inappropriate to minors. Your question is disingenuous because the answer must be obvious even to you.

    For a child, the next step after seeing the pictures is experimentation. Wake up and smell the coffee, pal; it happens all the time. Even small children of opposite gender tend to play "doctors and nurses" at some point if they're left alone. And from the onset of puberty, the stakes are rather higher.

    If a young teenaged boy is shown even simple pictures of naked women then it is likely to provoke desire. That's what those pictures are for. The more he sees the more he's going to think about it. Pictures which degrade women are even more dangerous because boys of that age are highly impressionable particularly about issues pertaining to gender identity and gender roles.

    You think "responsible", "mature" teenagers are any different? Think again. At that age our behaviour is heavily influenced by our biology. "Responsible", "mature" teenagers often quickly turn into teenagers in trouble when temptation proves too much to handle.

    Pornography != sexual abuse/assault. If a parent believes that their child is mature enough to understand the concepts therein (I'm not going to argue that porn is a purely educational tool,

    Precisely. We already have educational tools, we don't need porn for that.

    "Bullshit", I can hear at this point. "What happens when they go and show their friends" etc etc. Note the qualifier above, maturity. A child mature enough to understand sexual concepts is one mature enough to understand rights and wrongs, and these should be given just as thorough, if not more thorough, a treatment by their parents too.

    Someone who has had a very conservative upbringing in regards to sex (it's wrong, etc) is more likely to...use the least effective or no contraception

    That's a bogus, straw man argument. I said children should not be shown porn. I never said anything about appropriate formal sex education in schools, which should cover issues like contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and its consequences etc.

    Just one last question. Why do you suppose underaged teenage pregnancies happen? Answer: because two underaged teenagers had sex.

    If you answered instead "because they weren't informed about contraception", that's just plain wrong, for two reasons:

    (i) it's highly unlikely that any teenager outside of a religious commune is completely ignorant about contraception. And BTW, porn doesn't teach about contraception anyway.

    (ii) to argue that pregancy is caused by absence of contraception,is exactly analogous to arguing that gunshot wound deaths are caused by a lack of Kevlar clothing. Shooting causes gunshot wound deaths; fucking causes pregancy. Let's try to help underaged teenagers avoid screwing up their lives by not adding fuel to the fire.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • I came up with a solution for use here at the Alachua County Library District, http://www.acld.lib.fl.us/ [lib.fl.us]. I am on the Internet Access Committee (It wouldn't be a government agency without at least one committee.). I wrote a program (In VB, please forgive) that, based on the users choice, will allow filtered or unfiltered access to the Internet. It works by rewriting the registry key of IE for the proxy server. This way any workstation can be filtered or unfiltered. Any kids that come to the library are treated just like adults in that they are allowed to make thier own choice as to what type of access they want. That is also part of the program it forces you to accept our policy before you can use the workstation for any type of access. If you would like to see it email me and I will send you a copy. I don't have a web page yet (for anything).
  • Hey, I know the argument. I'm saying that porn can be left out of the public library. It already has no substance in public libraries anyways, so I really don't see why this is an issue.

    Libraries are academic institutions. I fail to see how porn fits in the roll of academics. Sure, some may consider Michaelangelo's "David" as porn as opposed to art. Like I said before, I'm not concerning myself with the definition of porn. Lets just state that at some point, art crosses into porn. However fine that line may be, its still porn on one side and art on the other. I don't care where that line lies, just that it does exist. So lets ban the porn from libraries. I think we'll all live without it AND none of your rights are remotely violated.
  • I understand that its going to piss someone off. Every action pisses off atleast one group of people. The actions a library makes to keep porn off the computers is no different (as I see it) than censoring swears and nudity on television. Yes the utilities used to censor need to be improved, but no, I don't think that because 20 or so legit websites are banned, that they should cease doing this. There's a certain amount of decency you want to keep in a public institution, so that nobody is harmed. Yes that sounds PC, but I seriously believe in it. Go to any college campus in the country and I assure you that viewing pornography on library computers is not allowed. I have yet to see one single student be vocal about such an issue. Are they embaressed to be vocal? I doubt it. I honetly wonder why.
  • Harmed in the sense that, in my opinnion, pornography when combined with sexual abuse is harmful to children. It has lasting psychological effects.

    I agree with you that lame softwareis an issue, and I'd rather not use blocking software but rather just not allow it. The way people look at this is that it filters 20 sites out of 1B. Thats a pretty good ratio in my opinnion. Sure it could be improved, but they need to start somewhere. It will get better though.
  • Honestly, I don't see people arguing for censorship in your public library is at all zealous. Censoring your home, yes, but a public library? Please! Censorship is not a good thing in most cases, but Christ, we're talking about keeping porn out of the site of children, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    Yes, some politicians have gone overboard and are trying to outright ban porn, but thats already failed once and _will_fail_again_ if attempted. I'm not worried, because I vote, and we do have a democracy. The problem with most people is that they don't put their vote where their mouth is.

    Hell, if you're going to bitch about anything, you might as well make it campaign financing. Its outright bribery, but I never see anyone complain about that! Rest assured, I'm putting my vote where my mouth is, and it has nothing to do with some lame software banning 10/1,000,000,000 webpages on the net. I just don't see that as a priority.
  • Ask _any_ psychiatrist if exposing pre-adolescents to sexual activity is healthy or harmful. I _know_ for a fact that they will tell you that its permanently harmful. If you don't believe me, then go ask a psychiatrist. Thats as far as I'm going to discuss it.
  • Except for the part about search engine blocking, it seems like all they have to do is add special exceptions to the software to unblock the pages that he listed. Then you'll be back at square one. Does anyone really want to work full time on coming up with lists of inappropriately blocked sites? This is the wrong approach. They can play that game forever.

    When you get right down to it, most people truly believe that obscenity is hard to define, and falls under "I know it when I see it." If you want to automatically block obscenity, then what we need is AI -- not simple pattern and keyword matching. If the computer can't beat me at chess 50% of the time, compose art, and .. uh .. ramble on Slashdot all by itself, then it probably isn't qualified to judge obscenity either. So gimme strong AI, baby.

    As for the consequences of letting an AI filter the media, I'll leave that as an exercise to SF writers.


    ---
  • "But if we're talking a 16 year old, they ought to have access to any info they need, regardless of what their parents think."

    Nonsense. A 16 year old is still a minor and the responsibility of the parent. It is impossible to fulfill parental responsibilities when you are not allowed to do so by law. It's utterly arrogant to claim to know more than the parents about what a child needs.
  • "IMNSHO, a parent has no right to deny access to sexual information for a child of that age..."

    I couldn't agree with you more. Further, it would be futile trying to deny it. However, there is a difference between allowing access to sexual information and allowing access to ANY sexual information. In particular, I'm thinking of stuff like the man-boy love, sado-masochism and other websites.

    "I do not see myself as having RIGHTS with regards to her, but RESPONSIBILITIES."

    No, you don't have rights, but your responsibilities imply certain obligations towards the child. Among those obligations are to provide food, clothing, and shelter. You are also obligated NOT to let him or her roam unhindered in an adult world that they are unprepared for.

    To give an analogy, besides sex education, parents also need to teach their children about money, it's value, the proper ways to earn it, etc. Such an education does not consist of giving the child a thousand dollars and letting them go on a spending spree.
  • "And those parents ought watch their children on the internet, not prevent access to MY child."

    Every public policy is going to piss someone off. Instead of getting into a pissing contest, why not try to find a solution that pleases the most people. Like restricting access without prior permission from the parents? That way the prudes down the street won't be offended when their little Johnny peruses the Anarchist's Cookbook but your perfect tykes can have your permission to salivate over Hustler.
  • When I was in high school, the librarian kept certain books behind the counter (I recall "Ice-Station Zebra" was one). They were available for any student, but were just kept off the main stacks due to vulgar language, sex, etc. No one considered this censorship.

    Now looking at a current public library, I see that Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler are not kept in the central magazine racks. Yet people are pissed that these very same magazines aren't instantly accessible from the central terminal of the very same library.

    I don't see why the model used in my high school's library couldn't be used. But a strick filter on the terminals, with a note that full access is available by asking for a key at the counter.

    I'm wondering what kind of nation it is that would put a liquor store owner in jail for selling Penthouse to a minor and also put his brother the librarian in jail for not letting minors read Penthouse.
  • "Which goes to prove the point in a backward sort of way, that the Puritans wanted things THEIR way, and nobody elses."

    Duh! Everybody wants things THEIR way! It's instinctive. One of the primary things parents teach to children is that they won't always get it their way.

    Take a look right here on Slashdot and you'll see hundreds of posts arguing that unfettered internet access in libraries is THEIR way. And they reject everyone else's.n.
  • The problem is, not every parent is going to think like you. Demanding that they do is extremely intolerant. It may not bother you that your kids have access porn (or tobacco, alcohol, etc) but choose not to. But many parents don't want their children having that access.

    Just saying "be like me" is very poor public policy.
  • Here in Australia, so-called home of internet censorship *cough*, several public libraries stock Playboy.

    Granted, not Hustler, or <insert scandinavian/dutch magazine name here>, but still...

    And again, it's not on the shelves. You have to ask for it. Which would cut down a lot of people who might otherwise flick through it *shrug*

  • A parent who starts showing pornography to their children ought to be locked up in order to protect the child.

    And this is a mature generalisation?

    Protect the child? From what? From who? Why?

    Pornography != sexual abuse/assault. If a parent believes that their child is mature enough to understand the concepts therein (I'm not going to argue that porn is a purely educational tool, and also by porn I'd hope you were intelligent enough to realise I'm not talking about 'Hot Black Dicks And Pearly White Cum' - shamelessly stolen from Clerks), then there is no harm.

    "Bullshit", I can hear at this point. "What happens when they go and show their friends" etc etc. Note the qualifier above, maturity. A child mature enough to understand sexual concepts is one mature enough to understand rights and wrongs, and these should be given just as thorough, if not more thorough, a treatment by their parents too.

    An interesting aside, I did a quiz which asked something along the lines of:

    Someone who has had a very conservative upbringing in regards to sex (it's wrong, etc) is more likely to:

    1. use the most effective form of contraception;
    2. abstain;
    3. use the most well-known contraceptives;
    4. use the least effective or no contraception?

    The answer was the last option. Ignorance breeds (in a bad pun form) errors.

  • Call me a tight-assed conservative, but I don't think that the government ought to be subsidising the erotic arousal of others. Unless I'm missing a large part of the situation, these groups are calling for blocking software to be put on government libraries' computers. This is not a call to block private transmissions on the Internet.

    (I already made this argument in a reply to a reply of this message, but I think it's a particularly good one, so I'l repeat it...)

    This argument makes no sense. You're not willing to subsidize my looking at online porn, but you are willing to subsidize my NOT looking at it? Blocking software isn't free. There'll be the obligatory upgrades, etc. Add to that the costs of the legal challenges (and remember, this is probably unconstitutional to begin with... see this article [spectacle.org]), and very soon my arousal is cheap in comparison.

    A bit off-topic, but still related: If you want to know the real costs (both financial & societal) of enforcing these sorts of "Moral Laws", check out Peter McWilliams book "Ain't nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in our Free Country." The full text is available online at www.mcwilliams.com [mcwilliams.com], but the printed book [amazon.com] is well worth the price ($8). In particular check out the chapter "It's very expensive" [mcwilliams.com] which talks about the financial costs of enforcing laws against consensual crimes (Gambling, drugs, pornography, etc.)
  • but the impression that I get of the Slashdot party line is "If there is information or computers involved, anybody ought to be able to do anything they damn please."

    You look at chaos, see chaos, and are surprised that it doesn't make sense? Remeber 40% of the people here are still in college, and thus posess highly profound points of view that change from day to day. Relax, make your arguments, and don't get frustrated by the hypocritically paradoxical nature of chaos and geeks.
  • a few people are prone to "running amok": the drug induces some sort of psychosis causing them to murder anyone they can reach, until subdued.

    um, let me see some links. After extensive "field testing", "group research", and just generally knowing a lot of people that smoke, I can guarantee you that the only place you'll see anyone "running amok" on weed/hash or any THC based substance is in the government propaganda film "Reefer Madness" (which you can see here [thesync.com]. It is theorized that the stories about people been going crazy on weed have been traced to PCP, which royally fscks with your head and is in another category altogether).

    The entire criminalization of reefer is a text book example on using fear tactics/minority demonization as a basis for legislation. ("Who is bringing all this horrible stuff to your clean white kids? The Blacks and Hispanics"). It wouldn't fly today but your grandparents folks sure loved it.
  • >> Legalize marajuana? It may be IMMORAL to smoke it and stupid even, but it does not hurt society? This is an example of the government stepping in when it should not.

    Actually there is one possible bad consequence of widespread marijuana/hash smoking... a few people are prone to "running amok": the drug induces some sort of psychosis causing them to murder anyone they can reach, until subdued. Later they can offer no explanation for why they flipped.

    Now I realise that being killed by a genuine whacko, or a murderer who is sane and not chemically enhanced, or a drunk driver is much more likely, but I'm still surprised that people never mention running amok as a negative consequence of marijuana smoking. The term originated in the Malayan peninsula, at a time when perhaps the majority of the population spent a large proportion of their time stoned.
  • I want to get my things my way yes, but I don't mind if you get your things your way too.

    I don't eat meat. I have several personal reasons for not wanting to. However, I don't want to stop other people from eating meat if you want to, because I recognize that my personal reasons obviously do not apply to others.

  • I won't call you names, but I have to ask you the following question:

    Why is it you feel open internet library access will bring out the worst in people?

    Further, assuming it does, why wouldn't a stern look and a comment about acceptible behavior in a public location be just as effective?

    I worry when people assume no one else has a rational thought process or any sense of discretion, or worse, think that parents won't instill their children with the ability to make intelligent decisions.

    Please don't subject me to uncontrollable absolutes in substition for logic.

  • This is an interesting article by Case VanKampen, a columnist for the Holland Sentinel, and a minister at a reformed church in the area. In a nutshell, he points out that children can get a pornographic novel in Herrick Public Library easier than getting porn on the Internet.

    The article is here [thehollandsentinel.net].

    - Detritus

    "I never really liked computers, but then the server went down on me"
  • we're talking about keeping porn out of the site of children, and there's nothing wrong with that
    Who defines porn? And who are you to tell other parents whether it should be kept of the sight of their children or not?

    You don't want your kids looking at what you consider porn? Great. Don't show it to them, and exercise a little fucking parental responsiblity when you take them out to the library, bookstore, or video rental place, or let them out on the net. But don't even try to force others to accept your defintion, or accept your opinion about what is or isn't appropriate for children to view.

  • In your example, though, there is a distinct children's area where it would make sense to use filtering, and where it wouldn't affect any other adult's use of the internet.

    In general, the community needs to decide if, and how much, filtering it needs. In ALL cases, any adult should be able to come to a counter and say "I am a competent adult. I request filtering turned off my my session only." In small town public libraries where there is a low ratio of people expected to actually request this, it makes sense to turn on the filtering by default according to what the community decides. In large state or federal public libraries, where the populace is a lot larger and generic, and it is not possible to know the ratio of people who actually want filtering, keep it off by default. In all cases, any adult should be allowed to use the internet censorship-free, if at least on request (I suppose if they are /really/ sensitive, they could request that it be turned /on/ in cases when it is not). This of course only applies to public libraries...private institutions can do whatever they please.

    Algorithm for filtering:

    const float MAJORITY = 66.666; // two thirds

    boolean shouldwefilter(person) {

    if (person.isAdult && person.requestsNoFiltering) return false;

    if (populace_requesting_filtering / total_populace >= MAJORITY)
    return true;
    else
    return false;
    }

    Jazilla.org - the Java Mozilla [sourceforge.net]
  • Ahem...

    My Mom used to work in a college library that kept Playboy behind the counter for lending. This is not as ridiculous as it sounds, think about it, it's college where they may have nude models in art classes. The nudity in Playboy wasn't considered objectionable enough to offset the stories and articles published in it.

    Of course, they did end up getting it out of the library because someone complained, and that's really a shame. I remember in my history of Germany class, I read an interview Playboy did with an ex-Nazi (he was fairly prominent in the during the war, an architect). There were no pictures, the article was photocopied and placed in the handout, but it was useful to an understanding of German history. (This was at a different school.)

    --Begin Rant

    Besides, which, the people who are in charge of the censorship brigades are mostly low grade morons who will believe whatever riduculous urban legend you tell them. Since these people allow their spokespeople to sound either like raving lunatics or ignorant idiots, I can't respect them or think they ought to have any power at all and certainly not the power to censor. These are the same gibbering buffoons who blamed Heavy Metal and Dungeons and Dragons for teen suicide. The same slack jawed yokels who blamed Doom for the Columbine massacre and who think one of the teletubbies is a homosexual (knowledgable as they are about the secret sex lives of puppets).

    Sure, people could argue that there ought to be reasonable community standards at a library, but these aren't the people, they probably put pagan and Wicca sites at the top of their lists when they aren't out denouncing those Satanic Harry Potter books. I mean, really, I wonder if the site about the Blue-Footed Booby was really banned for supposed sexual content or if they were afraid that someone might learn something about the Black Arts of biology, which they recently managed to take out of the school curriculum in Kansas.

    Frankly, I'm quite sick of people taking these people seriously or thinking of them as rational. Enough of them behave as frothing nutcases that I think we can say, "Put a lid on those guys first, then we'll talk." Wildmon's goal is to be the "Witchfinder General" of the United States (see the movie with Vincent Price for a reference), and I say that instead of taking these people seriously we should be laughing them out of the room.

    --End Rant

  • I do not agree with you on most of your critical points, but your definitly making points worth discussing.

    My library tried implementing a system like you describe, where the computers are out in the open and the librarians are supposed to watch. However, I could frequently walk by the computers to get online and see 50 year old men downloading pictures of pre-teen girls doing stuff that probably wouldn't be legal even if they /were/ over 18.

    First, a failure in one library is not a convincing argument that the system is unworkable, but it dose raise the question (and I don't have an evidence one way or another). You are absolutly correct that the system requires the librarian to do a little bit of additional work, but the majority of librarians I have known had parts of the library they needed to pass through frequently and would have been willing to glance at the computers when they did. Where the computers are located is an essential part of the proposal. Still, your point that the quality of librarian must be considered before a community makes a decission is perfectly valid.

    Now, lets talk about technological solutions. An open source filtering package is a good idea for homes (sicne parents currently have no acceptable filtering software), but it is still a bad idea to place too much censorship in a library since the riligious right will then preasure their own cnesorship into the system. I might be willing to accept a system where the library it's self censored site which it had a *problem* with people frequenting, but it would need to have a very powerful system to prevent abuse (i.e. they check the logs and notice hotsex.com, but they are required to notify hotsex.com and library patrons that hotsex.com is being censored.. and the library can be sued for inapropreat blocking).

    A better solution would be to display a mutalated copy of the image cache from the web browsers at the librarian's desk. The mutilation of the image would provide privacy, but still allow the librarian to catch porn. The librarian will be much more likely to catch porn and can get in trouble if they do not take action (unlike the walk-by method). I think this is a good compramize between a technological and a personal solution. (Remember even if you get the censorware list open sourced they are stil pretty ineffective since they can not understand a picture in an HTTP directoy) This image mutilation program might be a worthy open source project.

    Regarding parents blocking spoftware at home: I would like to see parents sue the censorware software for false advertising untill one of them opens their own list. The who false advertising aspect of this is generally overlooked by the anti-censorware people, but it should not be overlooked by consumers who payed good money for ineffective and biased software. Maybe they could start by suing the scientologists blocking software which is instaled without permission to try and set a presedent.

    Jeff
  • I think it would be ok for the Herrick Library to offer a choice of browsing modes to it's patrons. If you want to choose the protected browser use it. If you desire an unfiltered browser choose that. Each patron should be able to decide for themselves.

    There are times where I've been randomly entering domain names to see if there is information there and accidently encountered pornography. Let's face it, there are some domain names that you would not guess would be a porn site.

    This would probably not be too difficult to implement. I suppose that they could also make the filtered access seem more like the default (so that unknowing children select it). [Big shiny candy like button].

    The most important thing though would be that patrons are allowed to CHOOSE the access they desire.

    [BTW, I live in Holland, MI. and will be voting anti-filter until they come out with options like this].
  • You can bet this will garner a complaint to SurfWatch. 'How dare you suggest we use your product when it labels us as pr0nographers!'

    Sadly, even with the flaws in the blocking software revealed, the most the AFA will do is use a different vendor. I feel it is probably more likely that they do not respond even that intellegently: The brainwashed have a bad habit of recycling their mantra when challenged. Expect a 'So what! It blocks 'this-an-this-an-this'. You must be a pedophile or something!' response.

    Thank you for standing up for the rights of your fellow Michiganians!
  • public libraries don't put Playboy, Hustler, and other skin mags on their magazine shelves.
    The last time I checked, the public library in my homedown had Playboy (and Penthouse?) behind the librarian's desk. The sign told you to ask for them if you wanted them. This kept them away from the kiddies while making certain that adults didn't have to buy a copy in order to read, e.g., the latest Jesse Ventura interview.
    --
  • the Ann Arbor district library [aadl.org], although it doesn't use "censorware", does have an acceptable use policy [aadl.org] which deals with the issue of "disturbing information and images".
    It deals with it mostly by telling patrons, "Deal with it." Some quotes from the AUP:
    Libraries and librarians should not deny or limit access to information available via electronic resources because of its controversial content or because of personal beliefs or fears of confrontation.

    ...the Library cannot protect individuals from information and images which they might find offensive or disturbing.

    Parents or guardians are responsible for the Internet information selected and/or accessed by their children.

    On the other hand, it does tell people to be respectful of others:
    customers are asked to be sensitive of others' values and beliefs when accessing potentially controversial information and images.

    Refraining from the transmission of threatening, harassing or abusive language and images.

    It appears that the Christian Gallery web site I was pointed to a couple of years ago would be something the Ann Arbor District Library would ask their patrons to avoid viewing in public. Interesting.
    --
  • As reported by "This Way Out" in 1998, CyberPatrol listed the AFA as a "hate group" and could block their homepage out. I remember this getting them all bent which was plesant to read about. Must be why they did not want Cyberpatrol! The link is here: http://www.qrd.org/media/radio/thiswayout/summary/ newswrap/1998/532-06.08.98 But to make it easy, the text of that news blurb is: And finally ... Donald Wildmon's American Family Association has been an enthusiastic advocate for Internet filtering software as a means for parents to censor their children's web-surfing, in large part to prevent children from learning about gays and lesbians. In fact the AFA has a business agreement whereby it promotes one particular filtering package, X-Stop. But suddenly the shoe is on the other foot, as the most popular filter software, CyberPatrol, is now filtering out the AFA's own website ... because its homophobic content violates CyberPatrol's standards on intolerance.
  • According to Surfwatch's very own PR, their censorware has over 100,000 [surfwatch.com] sites on their blacklist.

    That's ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND. One with five zeros after it. No-one could examine this list in a reasonable time. It's not humanly possible. At one per minute, that's around 500 per workday. A whole work-year (200 days) to go through it once.

    It's simple mathematics.
    Even open lists, while a good idea, don't solve the problem of this massive, extensive, blacklisting.

  • I'm a strong believer that children do not look for things that they do not want to find. A study was done (I forget where) in which children were shown hand drawn sketches of both male and female genitalia. Younger children had no interest. Those at puberty asked questions. It is my belief that censoring is simply an adult's way of not dealing with subjects that *they* are not comfortable. It's interesting. A certain author wrote about an new social contract with children in Wired, about 4 years ago. It's a bit long winded, but I still remember this Jon Katz article well after reading it. Here [wired.com] it is.
  • i was raised in a household that i consider to be fairly politically and morally conservative. you know, my parents voted republican, we went to church every sunday, in sunday school we heard about the evils of sex, drugs, etc.

    my parents, however, did not treat this as dogmatic, unquestionable truth. they taught me about sex and violence and drugs at a relatively young age (7 or 8 years old). they taught me that sex is *supposed* to be enjoyable. which, admittedly, was something i didn't hear in church. my parents were and still are very active in their church. even if i don't go with them anymore, and have changed my mind about a lot of things i was taught as a child, i still respect them for teaching me to closely examine something, even if i agreed with it.

    oops. i started to ramble there. my original point was to say that just because someone may ally themselves with the religious right doesn't mean they are unquestioning automatons.
  • I totally agree with this, with one proviso. There has to be a mechanism in place for parents to be able to tell the library that it's OK for their children to use the "adult" PCs.

    The library I used to go to as a young teen had a similar setup with books. They had a long list of books that anyone under the age of 16 could not check out, but gave parents the option of signing a form granting permission for their children to check out ANY books. My parents signed that form because they felt I was mature enough to handle any reading material, but those parents that didn't feel their children were ready could feel safe knowing that their children were being kept away from "adult" material.

  • To quote the letter:

    http://afa.net/Pornography/pornography.html

    And finally, the American Family Association, which launched the pro-blocking-software initiative in Holland, is blocked.

    So, if I understand correctly, the software solution being proposed will not even allow people to view the site of the organization that began this proposal process!

    To use the Latin, "Res ipsa loquitur" (it speaks for itself).

  • Over and over and over again I ask:

    Where is the parent?

    I am flabbergasted by the number of parents who will drop their children off at their public library for 2, 3, or more hours with no supervision, who then scream about those same children gaining access to "bad" internet sites. I am not a babysitter. I refuse to be forced to accept a status of loco parentis. If you do not want your child visiting strange and unusual sites on the internet, don't let them browse the internet unsupervised. Don't drop them off at the front door saying you'll come back in a few hours.

    Don't tell me this doesn't happen - our staff just spent an hour with a little girl (who'd been here for 2 hours already) waiting with child services for Mom to come back. And I've got a small group of 8-10 year old boys who are after school regulars for about 3 hours waiting for mom and/or dad to finish work. We're treated as free babysitting, though we've explicitly refused that obligation in our policy.

    *sigh* I realize I've begun to rant here. But I am extraordinarily annoyed by two tendencies which manifest themselves in this issue. The first is the refusal to accept personal obligation. The second is the insistance that all must wear a particular straitjacket of moral and political standards.

  • >>but I don't think that the government ought to be subsidising the erotic arousal of others.

    Nor should the government be preventing things. Consider that there are 2 types of law in this country.

    1) Moral law - Law that people feel is right in thier bones. This may not affect the running of a government or society.

    2) Society Law - Law that people need in order to live in a society.

    These 2 laws are NOT THE SAME. Just because something is Immoral does not mean the government should make a LAW about it. If the government were to be our moral compass then we are in a sad state.

    Here is something as an example: The goverment society laws say MURDER is illegal and most moral laws say MURDER is bad. Morality states (religious) that you should not KILL, turn other cheek etc, and yet the society has Death Penalties.

    Another thing: Legalize marajuana? It may be IMMORAL to smoke it and stupid even, but it does not hurt society? This is an example of the government stepping in when it should not.

    Abortion: Morally this is a HORRIBLE thing. In Roe V Wade the courts state that it is not for governments to REGULATE it. Another Moral Vs Society Laws.

    A Library is a place where we are supposed to learn, even about SEX. It may be immoral in your opinion, but why make it a law? Except to cause the government to spend millions and billions to regulate MORALITY.

    Take this further and check out the laws you use everyday. Remember, DO NOT say to others, DON'T do that, it could hurt you. THAT is a MORAL position most of the time.

    I hate Cigarettes, they blow chunks. Morality states OUTLAW, society states limit.

    nuff said.

    btw, This was also mentioned (the legalize weed) on Ken Hamblin's Talk show.

    Free Speech, Use it or Lose it.
  • Everyone seems to think the entire issue is about whether or not we have the right to view pornography in a library. This has nothing to do with it. Very few think children(or even adults) should be viewing porn in a library. This is about information... and our access to it.

    But the filters just stop porn, right?

    No. The filters stop just about *anything* to do with sex. This includes statistics on teen pregnancy, sites suggesting abstinance, docs on safe sex, and even sites that use 'sex' to describe gender.

    But that's not all. The filters block lots of things that have nothing to do with sex. Fact is, they're faulty. Sex sites slip through and normal sites get blocked, because these things use bots, and bots are a shotgun approach.

    So, the next time you get blocked from any kind of sign-up because they want to know what sex you are, and the next time your high school paper on teen pregnancy is derailed, you know what to blame.
  • Simply put, you open letter is a good start. However is only half done. You need to offer a better suggestion. This orginization in the end simply wants to protect their kids.

    I don't think that anyone is complaining about installing filtering software on computers in the children's section. The push in the conservative community is to mandate filtering software on all computers in the library. They don't care that by doing so that they also obstruct access of adults to information that is politically sensitive and non-obscene.

    This is the real issue.

    Your solution of having the internet computers in a public area is a good one. Anyone who plays pocket pool in the public library deserves to get dragged off the premises by fellows in blue uniforms.

    Anomalous: inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected
  • The software must have been designed by puritans: they're absolutely up in arms about the idea that somebody... somewhere... might be having fun.

    Wonder why the Puritans are always taking it on the chin? Your paraphrase of an H.L. Menken quote was only one man's opinion (granted, it's the one that seems to have stuck).

    In reality, the Puritans were often criticized for having too much fun. They also caught flack for insisting that celibacy was not superior to sex within marriage and even went so far as to extoll the pleasurable virtues of sexuality (within the confines of marital fidelity). Such thoughts were quite scandalous to the Quakers and Catholics of the day.

    Just because a view is commonly held does not make it so.

    carlos

  • There are many things I don't like to look at, hear or take part in. There are many things I find personally offensive. But, I cannot condone censorship of even the things I don't like, because to censor one thing is to open the doors to censor everything. I say this because, "Quis custodiet, ipsos custodes", who is doing the censoring, and how do they determine their criteria. When most people clammer about "government imposed family values", or "laws for saving our children from exposure to evil", aren't they really just pushing their role as parent onto someone else? They already let their children be raised by schools, tv and their church of choice (by which I mean whatever strong personalitied religious emotional manipulator who dictates what/how they should think). Raising a child is a difficult, timeconsuming and labor intensive task. It takes forethought and awareness to raise a child with an openmind. If you give that responsibility to the state or the church what you end up with is a child with an empty mind.
  • It could be well worthwhile to try to find some people amongst the much-maligned "religious right" that:
    • Are concerned about the freedom of speech issues

      Which after all are a legitimate concern once you get past the stridency of "little Johnnie may see something inappropriate"

    • Know the "lingo" and how to meaningfully communicate with others in the "religious right."

      After all, if what they say to you doesn't penetrate your head as being meaningful, the converse is likely to be true as well.

    In a "debate"/"heated discussion" on censorship, I took issue with the comments of someone who was feeling particularly strident about protecting the world from "evil." I pointed out that a law based on his definitions would actually outlaw publishing the Bible.

    He then headed off into "never-never land" indicating that he didn't care, and that if the Bible was outlawed, he'd feel religiously persecuted, and would break that law.

    Unfortunately, I never got around to underlining the point that he was proposing to break law that he had proposed in the first place.

    At any rate, the critical point is to bring the focus away from the technological tools that allow them to believe that there is some sort of And Now We See A Miracle and back to the three crucial issues:

    • Who are the censors?

      They have to be properly appointed by a body that is answerable to the public that is being censored.

      For it to be someone in the back room at NetNanny, that is utterly improper.

    • What rules are they required abide by?

      Disclosure of policies and procedures needs to be mandatory, if they are to behave as a governing body.

    • What is the definition of the improper material that is to be censored?

      This is the truly thorny issue that can show there to be a true problem with the whole attempt; there is no unambiguous definition of "obscenity."

      • A bunch of 8-year-olds sniggering at an anatomy textbook probably counts as "improper," although calling it obscene is not particularly appropriate.

        In contrast, medical students obviously need such a reference. ...And are probably also capable at sniggering over parts of it ...

      • The Canadian NFB documentary "Not A Love Story" sought to educate people on the degradation of women that results from the pornography industry. And showings of the film are often accompanied by arrests due to the display of obscenity.
      • How about Venus de Milo?
      • How about a set of "artistic magazines" with particularly perverse topics?
      • How about an issue of Abnormal Psychology that excerpts material from such magazines to assist psychologists that are treating (say) pedophiles?
  • by fugue ( 4373 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @08:43AM (#1298324) Homepage
    About a month ago I asked them for pointers to research showing that sexual content hurt families. I said explicitly that I would read biased research if that was all that was available. I was very polite and didn't try to give an opinion, only request information. Naturally(?), they have completely ignored me...
  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @08:17AM (#1298325) Journal
    but I have to support SurfWatch's blocking of the Chris Odonnell fan page on general principles, man.

    I mean, something had to be done.
  • by Sebbo ( 28048 ) <sebbo AT sebbo DOT org> on Monday February 07, 2000 @08:57AM (#1298326) Homepage Journal
    It depends on your goals, I suppose. If Jamie was just trying to demonstrate for the general reader that SurfWatch is deeply flawed, I think he succeeded. If he was hoping to change the Family Research Council's reccomendations, I'm afraid he's barking up the wrong tree.

    I'm a little unclear about th relation between the American Family Association [afa.org], which Jamie says started the censorware initiative, and the Family Research Council [frc.org], to whom Jamie addressed his open letter. However, both groups belong to the ranks of the "Homosexual Agenda" conspiracy nuts, and Jamie's examples of harmless gay-themed sites will be considered child-inappropriate enemy propaganda

    The AFA prominently explains [afa.net] that they want to "combat the destructive effects of homosexuality socially and personally," and offer a videotape [afa.net] "for a suggested donation[sic] of $25 or more" that helpfully explains that "a pro-homosexual bombshell has been fired into our children's elementary schools. It's designed to accomplish three goals: (1) Subvert our children's innocence; (2) Turn them from the beliefs and values you hold dear; and (3) Indoctrinate them with false moral teachings."

    The FRC website is such a goldmine of homophobic bile and paranoid fabrication that attempting to find a few choice quotes has me exhausted. Suffice it to say that a search for the string "homosexual agenda" produces 95 hits. Hit #1 is this [frc.org] remarkable press release. Hits 2 and 3 are THE APA SUSTAINS HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA [frc.org] and MISLEADING RAND STUDY PROMOTES HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA IN THE MILITARY [frc.org].

    In summary, if you're expecting to engage in reasoned debate with these venomous loonies, I would advise you not to hold your breath.
  • Call me a tight-assed conservative, but I don't think that the government ought to be subsidising the erotic arousal of others.
    Ok, Mr. Tight-Assed Conservative, I assume that you also want the public library to remove any books or magazines with erotic content, or that are informative about sexual technique, or that feature images of nude - or scantily clad - human beings?

    But why single out sex? Surely, we must also remove any content dealing with other frivalous soruces of pleasure. Why subsidize the arousal of your artistic passions by keeping all those art books around? Or arouse your literary passions with those thick tomes of poetry? Why spend money on books about music, good food and drink, travel, and all those other trivial pleasures that distract people from what's truly important?

    No sir. The only books the public libraries need are the Bible and books on job skills (100 copies of, say, "HTML for Dummies") and playing the markets.

    Of course, I suppose if you're really a Tight-Assed Conservative, you'd want to close the libraries entirely and have the local government sell the building to WalMart to fund a tax cut.

  • by Weezul ( 52464 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @10:57AM (#1298328)
    I cannot see how anyone, in their right mind, would object to placing some sort of blocking software on PC's in childrens areas of a public library.

    I object to it because it teaches our children that censorship is ok, it is ineffective, it targets groups for political reasons (women's rights, EFF, censorware warnings, etc.). The truth is that a normal reasonable parent could not find a blocking package which blocks only porn (and the more objectivly harmful stuff) because the AFA and company have a significant influence over the blocked sites list.

    Finally, I object to censorware because there is a much better solution. Yes, that's right there is a better solution: Put the computers out in the open and have the librarians walk near them occasionally! This is immershuably more effective at elliminating porn then any blocking software. Parents who are concerned about their kids use of the internet should want their kids to use the internet at a library or school without blocking software but with an intelegant usage policy becuase the librarians can monitor usage.

    If they computers really must be in an enclosed space then you could install a video fork to switch between the monitors and display a distorted image of the web page at the front desk. (You should distort the image enough to make text unreadable for privacy reasons, but you can keep nudity identifiable) Actually, you might be able to show random images from the recent cache on a libraians system for a total software solution since random out of context images might not constitute an invasion of privacy.

    The AFA dose not want the libraries to adopt this more effective solution because it would not push for their political objectives (no gay rights, women's place is in the home, etc.) and it would work thus removing their ability to push for more restrictions.

    Yes you can say the list should be public, but I do not hear you complaining about the types of books the library places in the childrens section to browse.

    The lists should be public period, no execptions. I would like to see the current batch of companies prosicuted for their attempts to instal privatly controled censorship into schools and libraries. Also, we do not complain about the selection of childrens books specifically because the list is public (it's sitting on the walls of the children's section).

    This post is going to do some serious damage to my puny Karma, but alas, I am willing to take that chance. :(

    Has anyone else noticed that saing something like this is the best way to get a high scoring post? (even better then having a meaningful post)

    Jeff
  • by bfields ( 66644 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @09:25AM (#1298329) Homepage

    Probably you've already thought about this, but have you tried proposing any alternative ways of dealing with the perceived pornography problem? I notice, for example, that the Ann Arbor district library [aadl.org], although it doesn't use "censorware", does have an acceptable use policy [aadl.org] which deals with the issue of "disturbing information and images".

    I also stumbled across a survey of library policies [oswego.or.us] which has pointers to individual policies of libraries in each state, and also has some statistics (e.g., they say that at that time only 2% of libraries were using filtering software).

    Maybe it would be possible to talk someone from the Ann Arbor library, or from some other library in your area, to come and give a presentation about how they arrived at the policies for their library, and how those policies have worked. I bet a lot of people would find it very reassuring to see a local librarian come and say "we didn't use censorware, but we did do this and this and this, and we've had no complaints so far...".

  • illegal sites (i.e. a site that descibes how to mass pirate software or movies)

    Excuse me? Since when is that illegal? Last I heard the only speech that wasn't protected was racist 'hate speech', and then only in extreme circumstances! I think I'll inform my colleagues that the information I provided them on how to copy that Tru64 disc set for lawful archival constitutes a felony! Gee, I guess any information that could be used in an illegal manner should be banned! I suppose I'll have to stop hand-rolling my cigarettes in public too! Someone could watch me and use the information to roll a joint! Free speech indeed!

    Call me a tight-assed conservative, but I don't think that the government ought to be subsidising the erotic arousal of others.

    Let's see.. We can subsidise one local sicko, and it costs us nothing to do so. Alternativly, we can spend $85 per PC to install blocking software. If anything, the government would be subsidizing the censorware companies!

    Beyond how governemnt administrates its own computers

    Lest ye forget, they work for us. If we say 'no blocks', then anything else is tough cookies. And even the government answers to the Constitution, which seems to be the reason 'censorware' hasn't taken hold. Remember the article on how we paid thousands of dollars to protect Supreme Court Justices from porn sites? It was ridiculous then and it still is. If Sandra Day O'Conner wants to peek at some 'stud muffin' from her office PC, good for her! Come on! These are the people who defined 'hate speech' and 'pornography'!!
  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @12:33PM (#1298331) Homepage Journal
    The very first amendment to the US Constitution emphasizes the intimate relationship between freedom of the press and freedom of religion.

    Most of the conflicts that imping on freedom of speech and thought could be resolved if the definition of what constitutes a "religious group" were expanded and the autonomy from central government enjoyed by those groups deepened.

    This dives directly into the can of worms that is child protective law. All supremacist groups, be they Christians, Commies, Nazis or the Political Correctors, believe they have an inalienable right to legislate how others are to raise their children -- and what ideas are to be considered "virulent" enough to justify "prior restraint".

    Christians via laws against heresy, abortion and pornography

    Nazis via book burnings

    PCers via laws against, not just hate speech, but against the very emotions that make us human and in which we all indulge, including the PCers.

    The Christians, Commies, Nazis and PCers need to mind their own business, but they cannot do so if the government is allowed to intervene in their internal affairs on behalf of their enemies.

    This means actions like the burning of the Branch Davidian compound are about as evil as can be imagined within the context of a pluralistic society -- for they force us all to compete, as special interest groups, in the political arena for control over the indoctrination of the children of other groups, lest we lose our children to our enemies.

    Ultimately, the centralization of sovereignty is the enemy of all freedom, including the fundamental freedoms of religion and of speech.

    Personally, I believe that genes are fundamental to social identity, but I cannot establish a community of like-minded people without the continual and very real threat that we will be attacked by police and military groups as "supremacist racist hate mongers". I would gladly mind my own business if other groups would cease imposing, via governmental pogroms, their religious beliefs about genetics (ie: that genes don't matter to social identity and anyone who believes otherwise is a clear and present danger to civilization).

    The only way out of this black-hole of ever increasing centralization of sovereignty that I have been able to come up with, other than off-planet migrations, is warrior insurance [geocities.com].

  • by crath ( 80215 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @08:54AM (#1298332) Homepage
    Consider: public libraries don't put Playboy, Hustler, and other skin mags on their magazine shelves. No one considers this to be censure.

    Why is it then that when that same library doesn't want to make this content available through its Internet terminals it is considered censure?

    Everyone understands that blocking software is not perfect; however, the librarian making decisions about which books to place on the shelf isn't perfect either. Also, that librarian is no less politically motivated than the purveyors of blocking software.
  • by Jim Tyre ( 100017 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @08:49AM (#1298333) Homepage

    I think one of the best counter-arguments about these filter products is the fact that most of them block any discussion or critisism about themselves..
    That is only partially correct. Some certainly do block critical commentary, but not all, not necessarily most.
    One of the blocked sites Jamie mentions in his open letter is a mini-essay of mine, which is critical of SurfWatch. However, the reason why SurfWatch blocks it is not because it is critical of the product; rather, it is blocked because the URL contains the word "sex", and "sex" is one of many keywords which, if in a URL, automatically will be blocked by the client version of SurfWatch. The page would be blocked by SurfWatch if the URL was the same but the content was a tirade against the evils of premarital sex.
    Of course, in many ways, blocking on that basis is even more pernicious than just blocking criticism, but unlike some of our adversaries, we at The Censorware Project do like to deal in facts, not myths or scare tactics.

  • According to Surfwatch's very own PR, their censorware has over 100,000 sites on their blacklist.
    That's ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND. One with five zeros after it. No-one could examine this list in a reasonable time. It's not humanly possible. At one per minute, that's around 500 per workday. A whole work-year (200 days) to go through it once.
    Seth (who, for those who do not know him, was one of the earliest, most vocal and dead-on accurate critics of censorware) understates the case to make a point.
    First, if the SurfWatch list has 100,000 entries, in fact SurfWatch blocks far more than 100,000 sites, because of keyword blocking.
    Second, many vendors block by IP numeric addresses in addition to domain name blocking. If your site is blocked because it happens to share an IP address with a porn site, you may never see your domain name on an open blacklist.
    Third, although the vendors like to tout the size of their blacklists, in one area, they have an interesting way of counting. For example, many vendors block some or all of the free webpage hosts in their entirety, but if, for example, they block members.xoom.com, they will count that as a single entry on their list, rather than a block of however many hundreds of thousands of member sites there may be at xoom.com.
    Last, 100,000 is a conservative number these days. Many of the vendors say on their sites that their lists are in excess of 500,000 entries, a few have passed the million mark.
    Open blacklists are less bad than closed ones, but that is very different from saying that they are good.
  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @09:03AM (#1298335) Homepage
    We've been arguing with the zealots about censorship for ages. The zealots are, sad to say, currently winning. I've been looking at the arguments, though, and I think I'm beginning to get an idea as to why.

    Simply put, we're going about this the wrong way. We're not arguing from the right angles. We talk about "adults must be able to view as they please" which the zealots view as "we want to see our pr0n and you can't stop us." They talk about "protecting the children"; there aren't many ways to argue against that without coming out looking like the scum of the Earth (which isn't exactly productive).

    In other words, we need to revise our tactics. How many anime fans are on Slashdot? It might surprise most of us to know that at one point not too long ago, Japan went through similar media censorship troubles. Pick several anime at random and look through them; chances are you'll find ample evidence that the censorship advocates didn't succeed. Why didn't they succeed there?

    Simply put, people came forward against censorship who were truly brilliant. They argued just as strongly and just as convincingly against censorship as our fundamentalist friends in the U.S. argue for it. We need to look at these, take our example from them. They managed to argue convincingly where we are failing. And what's more, they won.

    Look into it. These are the sort of people we're going to need to emulate. Somehow, in some way, they managed to successfully argue against censorship, that is, they did it without looking as though they were doing something wrong that they didn't want criminalized. And I wish I had links to more information, but I don't right now. I'll post them as soon as I can find them.
  • by xyzzy ( 10685 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @09:26AM (#1298336) Homepage
    Oh come on, those aren't even the same things.

    First, I doubt too many libraries subscribe to Hustler. Some may subscribe to Playboy, though -- it is still considered a rather prestigious publication for fiction writing. [don't laugh here, you KNOW what I mean... :-)]

    But to address your main point, there is a HUGE difference between relying on a human to make those decisions and blindly turning over the reigns to a computer program written by a bunch of people you don't know.

    As to political motivations, well, as I said before, librarians are human. It takes an awfully strong person to stand up to the person who writes your paycheck. But I have found that most librarians are highly ethical people with a strong anti-censorship stance. For instance, check out the American Library Association's code of ethics:

    http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/ethics.html

    I think that they understand the difference between letting impressionable children browse through hard-core porn and letting more mature minds have unfettered access to the information that is their birthright.

  • by quakeaddict ( 94195 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @08:45AM (#1298337)
    This post is going to do some serious damage to my puny Karma, but alas, I am willing to take that chance. :(

    In my neck of the woods (New Jersey), the internet enabled PC's in the childrens area are blocked. The PC's in the main area are not, and are clearly marked as such. That seems to me like a good solution in any case.

    I cannot see how anyone, in their right mind, would object to placing some sort of blocking software on PC's in childrens areas of a public library. Yes you can say the list should be public, but I do not hear you complaining about the types of books the library places in the childrens section to browse. Isn't THAT censorship by your definition? I mean SOMEONE ELSE decided what books those kids can see?

    My wife takes my kids to the library twice a week, and they basically have their own little safe place to wander around/browse/read/learn/enjoy. I do not have to worry or care about what book they might pick up while in that area. Its a safe, age appropriate place. It should remain so. That thinking should extend to the internet as well. The internet is part of the childrens library in this case.

    As to the question of who is better qualified to forge the list of blocked sites, I say a commercial entity that have people who earn a salary doing this sort of thing, should bear the responsibility/chore of figuring out what site should be blocked and which shouldn't. Blocking some sites inadvertantly is no big deal...you said yourself that the 'net is very big. I'm sure there are thousands of sites that contain the same information that was contained in the one blocked site.
  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @08:55AM (#1298338)

    Simply put, you open letter is a good start. However is only half done. You need to offer a better suggestion. This orginization in the end simply wants to protect their kids.

    One scare tatic I've heard (and suppsidly this is true. Lets assume for the sake of discussion that it is true) is a mother noticed some rowdy kids in the library, looking at a comptuer. She walked by with her kid and saw the kids looking at porn. The mother then talked to the head librarian, who said that they can't do anything - the moment they try to censor this stuff the first admendment advocates get on their case.

    In the above situation I want to note a few things. First, this was a public place, second, kids (not adults) were looking at it without their parents knowlege. Third, this is not something that can be called research.

    The open letter above has showed that the filtering software doesn't work well. (It would be nice if you could have found a porn site that was not blocked. These come and go all the time, so you would have to be quick, but I think it can be done) However by not doing anything we get the situation above. Very few /. readers would agree that children should be able to view something that goes against their parents or the publics beliefs. (Note that this is a bit broad. We can all find exceptions, where parents are in cults.)

    So the next step is propose an alternate solution: In Minnestoa for instance it is illegal to view porn in a public place, and illegal [for anyone but parents] to expose kids to violance or porn. This puts the issue back in the parents hands, and librarians can simply walk by, and if anyone, adult or kid is looking at porn you call the police and let the courts deal with it.

    I much prefer a general, broad, law that covers all aituations to several targeted laws.

  • Regarding the letter to the Family Research Council--I honestly wish you the best of luck there.

    I also think you will probably have better luck having an in-depth conversation on the merits of Red Hat versus Slackware with the walls of your home than convince the Family Research Council of the fact the software is flawed and even blocks partisan material.

    This is largely because the Family Research Council would consider this a feature and not a bug. :P

    For those who aren't aware--the Family Research Council is, essentially, the lobbying arm of a group called Focus on the Family. FoF is probably the largest Religious Reich organisation in the US now (yes, even bigger than the Christian Coalition) and basically split off Family Research Council some years back in order to preserve their tax-exempt status. (As an aside, often state FoF branches will operate under different names to hide their affiliation with FoF.)

    To be perfectly blunt, FoF and its affiliates have an agenda--to basically get as many raving fundamentalists in office as possible and to get the fundamentalist vote out, in hopes of getting enough people in office to essentially turn the United States into a fundamentalist theocracy. If you want to get a good idea about the "face" politics they support, just look at the political platform of (recently dropped out) presidential candidate Gary Bauer--this is the guy who founded Family Research Council when it was split off of FoF.

    To these folks, pushing censorware is just another way of them "saving" us--whether or not we particularly want to be "saved" or not--and making the US into a "nice Christian nation again". (Many of these folks, by the way, also subscribe to "Christian Reconstructionism"--that is, the canard that the Founding Fathers actually meant the US to be a theocracy.) This is also why they tend to run "stealth" candidates (candidates who do not reveal their links to Religious Reich groups until elected) specifically to things like school boards--they want to get them young so they can indoctrinate them young, because they know that if they're gotten young they likely won't walk away. (This is also why they push homeschooling a lot, by the way, as well as vouchers for private schools--it's been the actual stated goal of many Religious Reich groups to get the school system totally dismantled so that kids are forced to go to sectarian schools.)

    FoF's president, Bob Dobson, also makes a rather lucrative career selling books on "disciplining your kids"--usually involving a mix of censorship, forcing God down their throats, and liberal amounts of spanking the kids (part of the reason corporal punishment is NOT illegal in the US--or, for that matter, why the US is the only nation besides Somalia which has still not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child--is because fundamentalist groups like FRC lobby heavily against such laws, claiming that it'll take away their right to "spare the rod and spoil the child" or to "raise their kids as they see fit". In some cases where it has crossed the line into child abuse, some fundies have even argued in court that the state prohibiting them from beating the living hell out of their kids is a violation of their First Amendment rights to religion and that beating the hell out of their kids is actually a duty of their religion).

    I happen to be a walkaway from what may be described as a "bible-based cult", and I can say that a fair percentage of the harder-core membership of many (if not most) Religious Reich groups in the US happen to be from churches that use coercive tactics on their membership. In other words, the ones who are doing the lobbying are more than likely brainwashed, they have probably already mentally defined anyone who isn't on their side and who dares to tell them about "flaws" in the software is directly in league with Satan (most Religious Reich groups, and most bible-based cults, DO have a very "us-versus-them" attitude--many Bible-based cults even go to the point of "deliverance ministry" (even your doubts are caused by demons, and the only cure is to "pray them out" or get an exorcism...rather like some of the nastier mind-control techniques in Scientology, actually)...). It is going to take a considerably larger clue-by-four than that to make them change their minds.

    The FRC has a rather long record of lobbying not just for censorship, but for the entire Religious Reich platform. On occasion, this has even gone to slandering folks who speak against them...don't be surprised if you find possibly much of the town turned against you (I've read in previous reports that the town in general is quite conservative and beholden to the Religious Reich).

    Some links so that the curious may learn more (and educate themselves thereby):

    Religious Reich Database F section--also info on FoF [infinet.com]

    Extended coverage of FRC from above site [infinet.com]

    ACLU's open letter to FRC [aclu.org]

    People for the American Way speaks out against FRC campaign against hate-crimes laws that would protect gay/les/bi/trans folks [pfaw.org]

    PFAW's "Who's Who on the Religious Right"--FRC section [pfaw.org]

    here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and here [pfaw.org] and even here very recently [pfaw.org], you can see what the FRC and the rest of the Religious Reich have to say to their own members

    QRD's info on FRC [qrd.org]--this also has a lot of quotes of the FRC in their own words to their supporters

    Info on the FRC from the Matthew Shephard website [wiredstrategies.com]--more FRC "in their own words" and at their worst

    EFF's "Know Your Enemies [eff.org]--includes info on FRC

    Walk Away [ifas.org]--a good resource not only for those walking away from "bible-based cults" but also gives you a glimpse of the mindset these groups have--important in debating them. (The head of Institute for First Amendment Studies [ifas.org] is himself a walkaway from a bible-based cult.)

    And since I don't want to just talk about them without providing some way to fight the Religious Reich (otherwise I wouldn't have posted the damn warning about the FRC's agenda ;):

    Arguing Against Faith [demon.co.uk]--basically, how to debate fundies

    A whole big mess of resources on how to fight the Religious Reich [anti-fascism.org]

    Another mess of good links [tripod.com]

    and still another mess of good links [spiritone.com]

    Skipp Porteous (walkaway and head of IFAS) writes on how to win against the Religious Reich [protest.net]

    A really good expose of the Religious Reich, including info on the "code words" they use with their members [webpan.com]

    Defending Yourself Against The Religious Right [elroy.com]

    11 Things You Can Do To Fight The Religious Right [serve.com]--this is good for regular folks too. (As an aside--Domino's is no longer owned by fundies, but Coors Brewery is)

    Major groups fighting the right wing:

    EFF [eff.org] (as if you didn't need any more reasons to send that donation in ;)--they fight censorware initiatives)

    Peacefire [peacefire.org]--the source for info on censorware, including how most censorware has just a wee bit of a fundamentalist agenda

    Institute for First Amendment Studies [ifas.org]--highly recommended. Includes info on the Coalition for National Policy (basically the "think-tank" of the Religious Reich) including membership lists. Head of group is walkaway from a fundamentalist "Bible-based cult".

    People for the American Way [pfaw.org]. Highly recommended is their "Right Wing Watch Online" section.

    ACLU [aclu.org]

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State [au.org]

    The Interfaith Alliance [tialliance.org]--progressive religious groups united for tolerance

    Rock Out Censorship [theroc.org]--naturally concentrates on music censorship, but has really good info on other school-related issues, including filtering. (I'm a wee bit biased on this one, much as I am with IFAS--I have done volunteer work for ROC before. They're a damned good group, though.)

    In any case, I wish y'all the best of luck in fighting them...I'm not sure you realised just what the hell you were getting into, but if there's anything we can do to help here on Slashdot, let us know.

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @08:12AM (#1298340)
    The software must have been designed by puritans: they're absolutely up in arms about the idea that somebody... somewhere... might be having fun. I mean - look at it: sex, orgasms, video games - all outlawed. But the really dangerous things in our society like being Politically Correct(tm) - which is essentially discrimination with a new name, or feminism - which some people distort to mean "white males are evil" are all allowed?

    You see, that's the problem with censorware - it's very much political, even though the box says it's not. Forcing schools to impliment this is a violation of both the spirit and the letter of the consititution which was created specifically to prevent any one group from dictating their beliefs. The government should not be taking sides! Yet by actively promoting it behind the veil of "political correctness" we're putting ourselves in (at best) a precarious situation.. and at worst a devestating way to deprive minors of alternative viewpoints. Which, afterall, is the point of censorware... it just isn't printed on the box.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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