30 July 1999
Internet Porn Filter Fails to Protect Children
A popular Internet blocking product endorsed by Senator Richard Alston fails to prevent children accessing pornography, according to a recent report on a software filter that is being installed in thousands of Australian schools.
"When you install a censorware product in your school district and turn on all the recommended categories, you expect that, at the very least, it will block hardcore sex," said the report's authors. So why, they ask, does the software allow schoolchildren to see hardcore sex?
The Censorware Project's report, 'Passing Porn, Banning the Bible: N2H2's Bess in Public Schools', reveals the results of a study of Bess Internet blocking software from American company, N2H2 Inc.
Bess, rebranded 'iFilter', was launched in Australia by Senator Alston in March. Australian distributors, Infopro Technologies Pty Ltd have signed a deal with Schoolsnet Australia for installation of iFilter in as many as 5000 State and Catholic schools around Australia.
The study found that Bess/iFilter lets through a shocking number of hard core pornographic sites, many with obvious, porn-related names and URLs, including sites listed on the popular Net directory, Yahoo.
"Senator Alston has apparently been hoodwinked", said EFA Executive Director Darce Cassidy. "During a radio interview in March, he informed listeners nationwide that eight and a half million web sites had been classified and said that the distributors of Bess/iFilter can 'guarantee you clean sites'. It is sheer folly to trust the marketing claims of censorware vendors, especially on a matter so important as protecting children."
While passing porn, Bess/iFilter was found to block a substantial number of innocuous sites. These included a selection of Biblical passages compiled by Thomas Jefferson, a Family and Child Mediation Service approved by the Australian Federal Attorney-General, the Institute of Australasian Psychiatrists, the entire web sites of several Australian Internet Service Providers including hosted business and personal web pages, information about Catholics helping kids on the street and even sites for children.
"Infopro claims that unlike keyword filters, N2H2 filtering does not restrict access to any worthwhile sites. Quite obviously, not all pages blocked by iFilter have been looked at by a human", remarked Irene Graham, EFA Board member. "EFA asked Infopro for an opportunity to review iFilter. After initial promising discussions, they ignored our attempts to contact them. We concluded there was a very good reason they would not allow a review of iFilter."
The report points out that products like iFilter/Bess miss so many porn sites for two basic reasons: size and rate of growth. The Web currently contains over one billion pages and two million pages (about 25 new pages per second) are being added every day. If you can read and rate an entire web page in 30 seconds, you would need another 749 people just like you simply to keep up with the new information. Of course, you'd have to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. On top of this pages are constantly changing - pages that are offensive today may be inoffensive tomorrow, and vice versa.
Darce Cassidy commented: "By endorsing this product Senator Alston has once again demonstrated his gullibility. He should stop listening to glib salesmen and start listening to the CSIRO and all the technically competent organisations and individuals who told the Senate Select Committee on Information Technologies that this kind of filtering will not effectively protect children."
"EFA is very concerned that endorsement of faulty software by politicians and ISPs will encourage parents and teachers to be lazy about supervising young children's use of the Internet. ISPs should know better, politicians should educate themselves about the world they seek to control."
-------------------------------------------------------------- Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc -- http://www.efa.org.au/ representing Internet users concerned about on-line freedoms -------------------------------------------------------------- Contacts Kim Heitman Darce Cassidy Phone: 08 9214 2204 Phone: 08 8362 5183 kheitman_at_iinet.net.au Darce.Cassidy_at_efa.org.au BACKGROUND The Censorware Project Report on Bess in public schools http://censorware.org/reports/bess The Censorware Project's media release http://www.censorware.org/press/press_07-28-99.html Infopro Technologies media release, 1 March 1999 http://www.infopro.com.au/press_room.htm "Unlike keyword filters N2H2 filtering does not restrict access to any worthwhile sites". Launch of ifilter National Content Filtering Service - Remarks by Senator Richard Alston, 1 March 1999 http://www.dcita.gov.au/nsapi-text/?MIval=dca_dispdoc&ID=3563 "Here's ifilter server-based content filtering system that allows parents, employers and educators to effectively block sites which they deem may be offensive." N2H2 Press release stating Senator Alston's endorsement http://www.n2h2.com/press-releases/03-24-99-bottom.html Australia talks back with Sandy McCutcheon, Radio National, 24 March 1999 http://www.dcita.gov.au/nsapi-text/?MIval=dca_dispdoc&ID=3693 "Well I've had a couple of new technology companies comes to see me in recent days and it really opens your eyes. One of them are using what is called eye filter. It's based on an American technology where they have physically tracked eight and a half million web sites and are able to then check them and determine whether they would offend against a classification regime. And they can then guarantee you clean sites." Schoolsnet Australia http://www.schnet.edu.au/ URLs of examples of blocked web sites Family and Child Mediation Service http://www.mediationqld.org.au/ Picknowl ISP, South Australia http://www.picknowl.com.au Institute of Australasian Psychiatrists http://www.iap.org.au/ Jefferson Bible http://www.angelfire.com/co/JeffersonBible/ EFA's campaign against Net censorship http://www.efa.org.au/Campaigns/stop.html