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Why Blocking Technology Can't Work
In December 2000, the United States Congress passed legislation requiring Internet blocking technology to block pornographic materials in all public schools and libraries funded through certain federal programs.

The problem is:


Here are ten good reasons why:

  1. Underblocking
    No blocking technology is clever enough to block even 10% of the pornography on the Internet unless it effectively blocks most or all of the materials on the Internet. This is because of the inherent complexity of human language and thought, not a matter of simply improving blocking technology.

  2. Overblocking
    Blocking technology always blocks more material than the small proportion of pornography it is able to block, thus significantly damaging the most basic and practical uses of the Internet, not to mention the free speech rights and civil liberties of every person accessing, publishing, or broadcasting on the Internet. Most of the material on the Internet is informative and useful and should not inadvertently or intentionally get blocked.

  3. "Expert" Control
    Even the simplest blocking technology is difficult to operate in a way that permits local control over the specific type and scope of materials blocked, so people who have to use blocking technology depend on "experts" in blocking technology companies who decide what they should and should not see, then keep this information secret even from those using the blocking technology. (Only one blocking technology company makes the list of blocked sites available to customers or the general public.)

  4. Subjective
    Criteria used to block materials are vaguely defined and subjectively applied to everyone who accesses the Internet, rather than designed and customized to meet the needs of particular communities.

  5. Error-Prone
    Blocking technology companies make lots of mistakes in assigning sites to block lists and almost always rely on automated systems for making content decisions. The process is fraught with error and there is usually no effective means to check whether a site is blocked inappropriately, to correct the problem, to override the blocking, or to appeal the multitude of incorrect decisions made by blocking technology companies.

  6. Censorship
    When the U.S. government requires blocking in public schools and libraries, the government mandates censorship in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitutional guarantees to free expression and freedom of association. Laws prohibiting the production and distribution of child pornography and obscenity already apply to the Internet.

  7. Discrimination
    Blocking technology blocks "controversial" materials related to certain issues or communities disproportionately more than other materials, thus unfairly discrimination against whole communities of people accessing, publishing, or broadcasting on the Internet.

  8. Vulnerable
    Blocking technology operation can be relatively easily bypassed even by children.

  9. Problematic
    Use of blocking technology causes problems with computers during installation, maintenance, upgrades, and removal that negatively impacts the use and performance of the computers, including computer crashes, access time delays, web display errors, and other problems impacting negatively the ability to access the Internet effectively.

  10. Wrong Focus
    Internet blocking technology is an unsuccessful panacea to an important problem that requires a more thoughtful solution. Parents, teachers, librarians, administrators, and local communities must work together to come up with Constitutionally acceptable solutions that encourage learning in a safe environment on the Internet, rather than relying on an unworkable technological fix. The focus should be on determining local standards and on education for all parties about how to use the Internet effectively.

Additional Resources

OPG logo
Online Access: Blocking Technology
Resources on blocking technology and related issues, Online Policy Group

Statement on Library Use of Filtering Software
Blocking technology resources such as explanation of what blocking technologies are and problems associated them, American Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee, November 17, 2000

CPSR logo
Filtering FAQ
Frequently-asked questions about blocking technology, including a consideration of problems with blocking technology, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, October 24, 1998

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