[SOUTH AFRICA] In response to a bill passed by the American Congress requiring all
American schools and libraries that receive federal funding to put filtering software in
place, civil liberties group Peacefire has made software available to disable the most
popular filtering software available.
Peacefire was formed in 1996 to represent the freedom of speech interests of those
under the age of 18. Their software, also known as Peacefire, circumvents software
such as CyberPatrol, SurfWatch and NetNannie.
But filtering software disables sites that contain sexually explicit and offensive material.
While free speech is important, surely it’s also important to protect minors?
A major problem with filtering programs is that they also block legitimate Web sites. For
example, Amnesty International Israel is blocked by Cyber Patrol; Algeria Watch which
monitors human rights abuses in Algeria is blocked by SurfWatch, as is the
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
A study by Peacefire shows that error rates for filtering software runs from 20 percent to
80 percent. Peacefire simply went to the first 1000 pingable dot-com’s, and then checked to
see which sites were incorrectly classified.
Then there’s the problem of extreme government censorship, as is the case with China.
There illegitimate sites are more than pornography and nazi sites; they’re also
pro-democracy and free speech sites.
But even Military-strength filtering software, like that used in Chinese ISPs, can be
overcome. The Cult of the Dead Cow is busy working on a project that will allow
surfers to escape Internet censorship imposed by governments. Dictatorial
governments are taking note: the United Arab Emirates have banned access to the
Cult’s site upon news of the project.
The problem of protecting children from potentially psychologically damaging sites
still exists, but software censorship is not the answer. Children will always be able to
get around software that prevents them from accessing content they want to see. The
answer lies closer to home, in the relationships we have with our children and the
lessons we instill in them.