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O'Reilly Network Weekly
Open Source Roundtable
Sponsored by IBM developerWorks

Foil the Filters Contest
09/29/2000

This week, the Digital Freedom Network released the results of its Foil the Filters contest, designed to highlight the ineffectiveness of filtering software programs. DFN's executive director, Bobson Wong, says the software is ineffectual at filtering out forbidden sites and, worse, has the unintended effect of blocking useful sites that Net users in schools and libraries should be able to see. Among these are the site of House Majority Leader Richard "Dick" Armey and a biotechnology education site, www.accessexcellence.org (because it includes the word, "sex" in its string of letters).

We talked to Wong and to O'Reilly Network's political and legal correspondent Steve Pizzo, who warns that, as bad as they are, filtering applications remain a major defense against the ambitions of some conservative forces who seek to censor Net content.

Listen to this discussion (14:34 mins, 3.4 MB):   Download the MP3 file    Listen in Real Audio

Bobson Wong
Executive Director
Digital Freedom Network

"Our grand prize was awarded to a high school student who was prevented from accessing his own high school's web site, from his own high school's library apparently because his high school had adopted filtering software which blocked all questionable material, and this unfortunately included the word 'high' ... "And this illustrates the problems with filtering software...The problem is that filtering software can block some really innocuous and useful stuff. But this is material that's being blocked so that children and other people can't access it." >

Bobson Wong

Steve Pizzo
Political and legal correspondent for O'Reilly Network
Reporter for Forbes ASAP

"I think Net freedom of speech advocates have got to be terribly careful that they don't shoot themselves in the foot here. Because the filtering software, as imperfect as it is, gives the politicians some political cover against some more conservative forces out there who would choose, if they had there way, much more draconian measures, when it comes to filtering software on the Net.

"When the computer decency act was being debated, both in Congress and in court, some of the very same people who are criticizing the software today were pointing to it as the reason why the government intervention was not needed.

"If they discredit the software to the point where it no longer provides the politicians any political cover, nor the courts any reasonable cause to turn down those lawsuits."

Stephen Pizzo