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Filter Software Limits Valuable Web Access

June 12, 2002

Amitai Etzioni glosses over the serious and widespread errors inherent in all Internet blocking programs ("Internet Can Be a Safe Place for Kids and for Free Speech," Commentary, June 6). Contrary to his assertions, the blocking programs are far from "99% accurate," they are not "getting better," and they continue to prevent access to thousands of pages of non-pornographic content.

My testimony at the recent Children's Internet Protection Act trial in Philadelphia bears this out. I documented thousands of examples of over-blocking--sites that shouldn't have been blocked according to the software companies' own definitions but that nonetheless were blocked on multiple occasions in months of repeated testing. Wrongly blocked pages went far beyond the health and sexuality sites Etzioni admits are often erroneously restricted; I also found thousands of examples of blocking of the Web sites of political candidates, rock bands, small businesses like flower stores and home improvement shops, and even a text-only site discussing the perils of child pornography.

The problems with blocking software are fundamental, I concluded in my expert report, and the Philadelphia federal court agreed.

Ben Edelman

Berkman Center for Internet

& Society, Harvard Law School

Cambridge, Mass.

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