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Published in Print: January 10, 2001, as New Law Directs Schools To Install Internet Filtering Devices

New Law Directs Schools To Install Internet Filtering Devices

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Schools and libraries that receive federal money for Internet connections have a tentative April 16 deadline to draw up Internet safety policies that include installing technology to block minors from obtaining or viewing pornographic images on the World Wide Web.

The new requirement is part of HR 4577, the fiscal 2001 appropriations law for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education that was approved by Congress and signed by President Clinton last month.

The requirement is likely to be challenged in court by free-speech advocates, according to Chris Hansen, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer in New York City.

Failure to comply with the Internet safety provision could lead to the loss of federal money for technology, including education-rate discounts for telecommunications services and technology funding under Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Libraries could also lose technology funding under the Library Services and Technology Act.

The law sets deadlines for turning the safety policies into practice, although some of the language is murky and will have to be clarified in regulations, lawyers studying the law said.

The Federal Communications Commission must act first and issue regulations that will take effect by April 16 covering schools and libraries that receive E-rate funding. The Department of Education and the Institute of Museum and Library Services must also issue regulations covering technology money they dole out, but it is not clear exactly when.

Schools and libraries that receive E-rate funds, for example, will probably have to install technology to block pornography by July 1, when they have to certify they have taken those steps to qualify for E-rate discounts. Such blocking typically is accomplished by using a piece of computer software called a filter.

For special cases, the law allows E-rate recipients who do not yet have filtering technology to receive waivers for one or two years.

President Clinton and national groups representing schools and libraries had opposed the filtering requirement contained in the provision, called the Children's Internet Protection Act. It was supported by organizations such as the Christian Coalition of America and the Family Research Council. ("Funding Stalemate Puts Internet-Filter Mandate on Hold," Nov. 8, 2000.)

Despite Mr. Clinton's opposition to the filtering requirement, vetoing the entire $450 billion appropriations bill to block it was not seen as a realistic option for the president.

Carole J. Wacey, the deputy director of educational technology for the Department of Education, emphasized that "the [Clinton] administration was against mandating blocking and filtering technology in our schools, but very much in favor of requiring that all schools that receive federal funding have Internet safety policies in place."

The provision requires that schools and libraries adopt and use Internet safety policies that address the operation of a "technology protection measure" that blocks or filters Internet access to "visual depictions" that are "obscene," child pornography, or are "harmful to minors."

Such policies, which must be created with input from at least one public hearing, must also address the safety and security of minors—defined as those age 17 or younger—when using electronic mail, Internet chat rooms, and other types of direct electronic communications, such as instant-message services.

Beyond that, policies must address online computer hacking by minors and unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information about minors.

Internet policies and anti-pornography filters are already used extensively in most schools that use the Internet actively for instruction. Last spring, a national survey of teachers who use the Internet in their classes found that 61 percent said their schools had filters and 91 percent had Internet use policies, according to Quality Education Data, a market-research firm in Denver.

Vol. 20, Issue 16, Page 32

Related Stories
Web Resources
  • Read "The Internet Filter Farce," from The American Prospect, Jan. 1-15, 2001. Says author Stanford scientist Geoffrey Nunberg, "For every article raising the alarm about [Internet privacy or security problems], there's a clutch of software engineers sitting in a loft somewhere trying to turn the concern into a market opportunity. The problem is nowhere more evident than in the frenzy to equip homes, schools, libraries, and workplaces with blocking technology..."
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