This Mother Says: Fuck the Children's Internet Protection Act

by Alana Wingfoot

Among the amendments to H.R. 4577, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriation bill passed 15 December 2000, is the Children's Internet Protection Act. Translated into English, schools and public libraries must either install censorware on their computers or lose the federal funding that helps them pay for the computers and Internet connections.

This mother isn't impressed.

First, let's go over the basics one more time, for all those folks out there who don't get it yet:

  1. Censorware doesn't work for its intended purpose. It'll block out some stuff that most people agree should be blocked, yes, but all someone has to do is put up a new file tomorrow called rslg3w2.gif or senatorjohnmccain.jpg, and surprise! there's a sexually explicit photo that gets right through the filters. No software can catalog the whole Internet.
  2. Censorware blocks a lot of stuff that even conservative Republicans agree isn't offensive. Like Representative Richard 'Dick' Armey's website, which is blocked by some censorware programs because it contains the word 'dick'.
  3. Who's defining 'offensive', anyway? Is a pagan website offensive? A feminist website? A Republican website? A pro-life website? A pro-choice website? The website for a violent movie? With censorware, the decision of what constitutes 'offensive' or 'harmful to minors' is in the hands of the censorware company, not the parents connected to the school or library installing the software.

(There are plenty of sites that go over this in more detail; Peacefire is a good start.)

I am sufficiently unconvinced of the value of censorware that my husband and I have chosen not to install it on our home computer; we feel that supervision and teaching while Gregory is small will protect him far more than a program that won't block all the things we're concerned about and will block things that we might want him to see or read.

But that's not the only thing that hacks me off about the CIPA. Okay, I can grudgingly see the 'something is better than nothing' argument for having censorware on elementary and secondary school computers -- I strongly disagree with it, but I can at least see where the other side is coming from.

However, as far as I can tell, the law applies to all public computers in public libraries.

Not just the ones that are in the children's section. Not with the exception of one or two computers in a restricted area for adults only. All of them.

So, adults who are too poor to afford computers or Internet connections of their own are now going to be screwed over, because their access to information is restricted. Adults who want to find information about birth control. Adults who wonder about their sexual orientation. Adults who have difficulties with mainstream religions and want to explore alternatives. Adults who want to find out more about the views of their political leaders. Faugh.

Believe me, I understand the urge to protect our children from things they aren't ready to learn about, or things that we wish they'll never have to learn about. But censorware doesn't do the job -- in fact, it may actually undermine the efforts. If you expect the censorware to do the protection and don't follow up with your own teaching, what happens when -- not if, when -- something slips in under the filters, and your kids are left to their own judgement?

The ACLU has already said they're going to challenge the act. Good. But the thing should never have been passed in the first place.

Copyright © 2000 by Alana Wingfoot

05/24/07 at 11:14