Utah To 'Filter' Access to Computer Networks

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Educators in Utah want every school to have access to the Internet and the educational possibilities it offers. But they don't want their students exploring the seamier side of the global computer network.

To help screen out pornographic and other materials on a statewide computer network being built for schools, Utah education officials said last month they plan to in~stall special "filters." The plan may be the first state-level policy to limit student access to the Internet.

The Utah Education Network is evaluating filtering software from several companies to decide which will best keep objectionable materials out of student's hands, said George Brown, the network's assistant director of policy and planning.

The network, based at the University of Utah, is in the midst of a $20 million project to link every school in the state to the Internet within three years.

There have been no reported incidents of Utah students viewing pornography on the Internet, Mr. Brown said. But in light of stories in both the national and local news media about the growth of so-called "cyberporn," state officials decided they wanted to keep it that way.

Some accounts of widespread access to pornography on the Internet have exaggerated the amount of illicit material available to minors, Mr. Brown acknowledged. Yet, such material exists, and the publicity has drawn attention to it, he said. "That has raised the level of concern among many people here."

The filtering system will ensure that materials available to students conform to the state's guidelines for appropriate curricular materials, Mr. Brown added.

Access Denied

Although several companies have created filtering products, there is no commonly accepted software standard that allows them to be used on any system.

Last month, a group of 22 technology companies, research in~stitutions, and universities announced plans to design and distribute such software free of charge. Among them are ibm, Microsoft Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Prodigy Services Co., and America Online.

The software, which is expected to be available next year, will enable computer owners to set up a personal rating system based on specific words and Internet addresses to be screened.

That would enable schools or network monitors to deny access to material they deem objectionable, said Brian Ek, a Prodigy spokesman and a co-chairman of the group's policy committee. The system could be tailored to give different users--teachers and students, for example--access to different levels of information.

The filtering software would be available from on-line companies and on the Internet, and school systems would be able to make copies, Mr. Ek said.

Vol. 15, Issue 05

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