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Worst Censorware Blocks Cannot Be Fixed 420

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the speak-the-truth dept.
Slashdot regular Bennett Haselton writes "The ACLU has targeted a group of Tennessee school districts for blocking websites categorized by a blocking company as 'LGBT.' I hope the ACLU wins, but it may create the mistaken impression that egregious overblocking of websites is easy to fix. On the contrary, the vast majority of errors are hard-coded into the products and cannot be fixed by unblocking a single category." Hit that tantalizingly entitled 'Read More' link to read his essay.

The ACLU is threatening to sue a group of Tennessee School Districts for using blocking software that blocks sites categorized as "LGBT" — that is, sites themed around lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender issues that would not be classified as pornographic. Some of the blocked sites include the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign.

Legally, the school districts' decision to block these sites seems fairly indefensible. The content being censored is political speech, not illegal to distribute to minors, and as the ACLU points out, by blocking these sites the school districts are engaging in "viewpoint discrimination," since the schools allow access to anti-gay sites like Americans for Truth Against Homosexuality (which, ironically, features a disclaimer saying its content is not suitable for children). But, you never can tell with judges. A judge in Utah once ruled in favor of a school that suspended a student for wearing a t-shirt with the word "Vegan." (Do you think the judge would have made the same ruling if the student's t-shirt had said "Christian"?)

However, while the ACLU would be right to bring this case, there may be another unintended side effect. By focusing on the fact that the "LGBT" category is enabled to be blocked in these districts, this sets up a contrast with districts that do not have the "LGBT" category enabled, which could lead people to think that such districts are not blocking LGBT sites. This is not the case.

When a school district buys blocking software, the software comes with an encrypted list of websites listed in different categories; categories like Pornography and Nudity are typically blocked, while categories like LGBT would usually not be. If a site falls into one or more of the blocked categories, then attempts to access that site will be blocked (at least until some reprobates help you get around the filter.) However, it's the blocking company that decides what to put on the list under each category. And even if only categories like "Pornography" are enabled, there are likely to be many non-pornographic sites categorized as "Pornography," and hence blocked wherever that category is turned on.

When the ACLU of Washington sued the North County Regional Library system for enabling blocking software for all patrons (including adults), they asked me to test the Fortinet Web filter that the library was using. I used a random sample of 100,000 .com and 100,000 .org domains and ran them through an automated script to find 536 .com domains and 207 .org domains that were blocked by Fortinet. Of those, about one out of every eight .com sites categorized as "Pornography" or "Adult Materials," and one of out of every four .org sites blocked in those categories, was a site with content that could not possibly be considered "adult" — some of the sites blocked in these categories included the Dabar Worship Center, the immigrant-rights group Families for Freedom, and the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra. Extrapolating these ratios to the set of all .com and .org domains in existence, one could conclude that there were about 71,000 non-pornographic .com sites and 5,800 non-pornographic .org sites blocked by FortiNet as "Pornography" or "Adult Materials" — a number almost certain to grow into six figures when you add in all the sites outside of .com and .org. Years earlier, I had run similar tests for Cyber Patrol and SurfWatch (products which have since been discontinued) and found that an absolute majority of sites blocked by each program were actually non-pornographic, which translated into an estimate of hundreds of thousands of .com and .org sites wrongly classified as "porn."

Only the blocking companies know for sure how such stupid mistakes end up on their lists, but the most widely accepted explanation is that they use machines to crawl the Web and guess which sites are pornographic, and add those sites to their blacklists without any human intervention. In their early years, the makers of SurfWatch and Cyber Patrol claimed that employees actually did review sites before adding them to their lists, but that claim became increasingly untenable as more and more reports came out of sites being blocked with no adult content on them.

Nobody has yet done a similar study for the ENA blocking program, but every blocking program that has ever been tested has had a non-trivial error rate that extrapolates to at least hundreds of thousands of non-pornographic websites being blocked under "Pornography" and similar categories. There is no reason to think that the ENA blocker is different; at the very least, if they claim that it is, then the burden of proof should be on them.

So, the ACLU will probably succeed in persuading the Tennessee Schools Cooperative to stop blocking the "LGBT" category, but that doesn't mean that LGBT sites — or any other category of non-pornographic sites — will no longer be blocked. A student who encounters a blocked LGBT site could request an override, but what if they don't want to "out" themselves as someone who was browsing an LGBT site? Is Tennessee the best place to be known as the "queer who wanted to get around the porn filter"? And there may not be an option of getting an override anyway. Some of the correspondents on Peacefire's mailing list for new proxy sites to get around blockers are teachers who aren't given a password to bypass the blocker on their school's computers.

Then of course — you know what's coming — there is the other "larger sense" in which unblocking the LGBT category doesn't "fix the problem," which is that there would be no "problem" if we didn't think of teenagers as children instead of adults. You've probably already decided which side you're on in that debate, but consider it as a scientific question instead of a moral one. Do you think there is any objective evidence that teenagers, if they were given the opportunity to have the same rights and responsibilities as adults, would behave differently from adults to a large degree — more differently than, say, men and women behave from each other? The trouble with the "evidence" that we gather from personal interactions is that it's not truly objective — if someone believes that teenagers are immature and adults are not, they're likely to see and remember only the pieces of evidence that confirm that belief. A true double-blind experiment might involve talking to someone through a computer terminal and rating the other person's "maturity" just based on their responses. That's a start, but the trouble with that experiment is that adults tend to know a larger set of words, so a participant might rate the other person as more "mature" because of their large vocabulary, even though having a large vocabulary is completely different from having mature thoughts or logical reasoning skills. A fairer test might be to take a non-native-English-speaking adult and a native-English-speaking young teenager who scored about the same on a test of English vocabulary, and see if participants could tell the difference in maturity between those two test subjects while talking to them through a computer terminal. I am not aware of any experiment along these lines that has been done, but this is the sort of evidence of differences between adults and minors, that would be truly objective.

Most of the evidence in favor of the innate "adulthood" of teenagers is also anecdotal and not scientific, but it is compelling. As psychologist Robert Epstein has pointed out in The Case Against Adolescence, for thousands of years humans in their early teens were giving birth and raising children of their own. That obviously does not mean that that is a good idea in today's society, it just means that somewhere along the way, we must have lost sight of the level of responsibility that human teenagers are biologically capable of handling. If one of our Stone Age forebears could be brought back to life, he might eventually get used to the Web, but he'd probably always be amused by the idea of Web blockers for teenagers who are older than he was when he was raising his first child.

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Worst Censorware Blocks Cannot Be Fixed

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  • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Monday April 20, 2009 @11:48AM (#27646903) Journal
    Read 8960 More Bytes?
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:00PM (#27647077) Homepage Journal

    Because while little Timmy can have his internet activities monitored by his parents at home when he gets to school his parents wishes are cast into the ditch because other people have decided they know what is best.

    People love to demonize parents for not getting involved in the lives of the children but when those children are outside of their control for eight hours a day what are they to do?

    Frankly I do not believe they need internet access outside of what is required to finish a class assignment. I figure most of this comes down from haters who look for any chance to embarrass or otherwise annoy religious oriented Americans who send their kids to public school. The parents are legally responsible for most of the actions of their kids and legally prevented from knowing about many of them.

    Public education should have standards on EDUCATION. What a locality wants to do beyond that should be off limits to the Feds. As long as they don't try to indoctrinate based religion/race it should be fine. The problem with education is that the system is keeping parents out and then blaming them for it.

    Let them be more involved, but realize freedoms you claim the students don't have should not be granted by the system over the wishes of their parents. If you do that then you absolve the parents of any liability for their children thus making them wards/products of the state. Then again maybe that is what these people want.

    • by lorenlal (164133) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:12PM (#27647297)

      The argument you bring forth makes me feel the true pain it is to grant any sort of internet access to a population that isn't held responsible for what they do. Which is covered by the latter part of the rant above. If the sites are blocked, then free expression is squelched. If the sites are allowed, it could be considered offensive by the parents that you are arguing for.

      Maybe, the school systems are going about it all wrong. Instead of having "blockers," poke "holes." I would assume that the access to the internet is not intended to be for the entertainment of the student. It likely has a purpose, namely assisting with research, email, or whatever else. The simple solution is to tell the student users, "This is for [purpose] only." And allow sites that assist with that purpose. If a student really wants to read about some other subject, they can research it at home, or at a local library, or a freaking coffee shop if they really want to. I'm sure that even Tennessee has a Starbucks or something to provide that in the towns.

      If the school is feeling really frisky, they can even allow that instant messaging thing. Also, give the staff a way to access the broader content, so if there's something that they feel is worthwhile, they can get it added. I think that this addresses the biggest concern, "What should they be doing at school" against "What shouldn't they."

      I don't think a school is a place where kids should be hanging out streaming the NCAA tourney either... Cause I'll bet that's not part of the curriculum.

      • by Main Gauche (881147) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:35PM (#27647661)

        Maybe, the school systems are going about it all wrong. Instead of having "blockers," poke "holes."

        This is an interesting idea, and I'm sure some must do it that way already. The problem with this approach is that the students are then spoon-fed their sources. Giving them an assignment with a pre-approved list of sites takes away the part where they have to actually dig for information.

        I think as a practical matter, the "blockers" approach provides the best cost/benefit ratio. That doesn't mean it's perfect. But as GP put it (in one of the best posts I've ever seen on slashdot), the students are in school to work on their learning, not to watch sports, investigate alternative lifestyles, or do anything else like that.

        When my daughter reaches that age, I'll be happy to explain the diverse nature of people in the world. In the meantime, I don't want to hear that this is what constitutes school work.

      • I see many posts basically saying that censorship is OK because schools are for learning, not about entertainment. What kind of learning do you want these kids to experience? Do you want high schoolers to have some Sesame Street notion of reality? Understanding sex and sexuality is essential for understanding what it means to be human. You can probably learn math or physics in a censored environment, but what about any subject that actually looks at human beings? Biology? Anthropology? Sociology? Hi

      • I think you have a point here. In schools, white lists (maybe even different white lists for different classes) make a lot of sense. Those white lists can even come with a commenting link catalog.

        On the other hand, I would not agree, if one would ask for white lists also in other public areas, such as libraries.

    • by MasterOfMagic (151058) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:13PM (#27647309) Journal

      People love to demonize parents for not getting involved in the lives of the children but when those children are outside of their control for eight hours a day what are they to do?

      Let the children learn that there are other viewpoints out there. That's what school is supposed to be for.

      I figure most of this comes down from haters who look for any chance to embarrass or otherwise annoy religious oriented Americans who send their kids to public school.

      When they stop trying to embarrass or otherwise annoy me by trying to ram through "academic freedom" bills that force teachers to teach a fairytale as science and act as a wedge to break down the church/state separation, then they'll earn my sympathy and respect. When they stop putting their fingers in their ears and shouting out that "abstinence is the only way, sex is sinful and dirty, and condoms will give you AIDS", then I'll be concerned about what they think. When they stop telling people that the genitals of the person they like are more important than the love that they have for them, then I'll entertain their cries of oppression.

      Let them be more involved, but realize freedoms you claim the students don't have should not be granted by the system over the wishes of their parents.

      If they feel that their children are being exposed to viewpoints that they don't agree with, let them home school their kids or send them to a private school.

      While I agree that there should be local control of schools, the reason this lawsuit was filed was to challenge what the locality thinks should be acceptable and if those standards are reasonable. Community standards, the basis of most obscenity claims, were never meant to be static and unchanging - they were meant to be influenced by society as a whole. What works for one community may not work for another, but reasonable community standards are important.

      I'm sure that you'll find some towns in the south that feel showing a black man and a white woman kissing is obscene. Luckily, society as a whole as advanced passed that racist and backward world view, and any obscenity trial involving that community will take that into account.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by a whoabot (706122)

        "Let the children learn that there are other viewpoints out there. That's what school is supposed to be for."

        Of course no one actually follows this, but only says it to allow the viewing of some viewpoints with which others disagree, but not others. They should be allowed to read about advocacy for homosexual lifestyles, but should they be allowed to read about advocacy for white nationalism or holocaust denial?

        And then creating reasonable community standards involving society as a whole. How would that w

    • by PhxBlue (562201) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:19PM (#27647409) Homepage Journal

      People love to demonize parents for not getting involved in the lives of the children but when those children are outside of their control for eight hours a day what are they to do?

      They have a couple of options -- either (A) hold the schools to account for what they're doing and not doing; or (B) homeschool.

      Public education should have standards on EDUCATION. What a locality wants to do beyond that should be off limits to the Feds. As long as they don't try to indoctrinate based religion/race it should be fine. The problem with education is that the system is keeping parents out and then blaming them for it.

      No, the problem is that parents don't want to expose their children to any ideas contrary to the parents' beliefs. Problem is, the real world doesn't work that way, and neither do the public schools that are a reflection of the real world. It's all well and good to teach your child that homosexuality is sinful or whatever -- hey, it's your belief, and the U.S. thrives upon a wide variety of beliefs.

      But what does it teach your child when you tell him that he's not allowed to even explore other beliefs and ways of looking at the world? In my view, it teaches him that you're not confident your beliefs will stand up to scrutiny, and it's going to encourage him to find out what you're trying to hide.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gbjbaanb (229885)

        They have a couple of options -- either (A) hold the schools to account for what they're doing and not doing

        the biggest issue here is that school are allowing kids access to the freaking internet. I'm sure none of the kids there give a damn about any gay/lesbian website - they're too busy talking crap with their mates on facebook. Instead of learning stuff.

        So yeah, sure we should be outraged at some faceless company deciding what's allowable or not on the internet, but we should be equally outraged that kid

        • As many others have pointed out. A public school's best move should be to cut the internet off except for a few rooms. Those machines have an approved list of websites that they can visit. This sound moronic with the number of websites, but it is safer for a public school to do this. Those machines can be monitored easier. Not just with software. Have a school employee there to keep an eye on what is going on. Also this forces even the teachers to use those same internet allowed computers.

          The rest of the co

    • by shoemilk (1008173) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:20PM (#27647425) Journal

      Frankly I do not believe they need internet access outside of what is required to finish a class assignment. I figure most of this comes down from haters who look for any chance to embarrass or otherwise annoy religious oriented Americans who send their kids to public school.

      Let's play make-believe. I was once married to a female and had kid(s). My wife and I get a divorce and I win custody of my kid(s). Post-divorce, I realize that one of the reasons for my poor marriage was the fact that I'm gay.

      Now I live with my life partner (not husband because those poor tread-upon religious oriented Americans say we can't be married) and my kid(s). We have a wonderful, healthy relationships (parent-child, etc). One of my kids decides to write a paper on child development in gay households, goes to school to research and ACCESS DENIED!

      So now, my child can't do the report and who's being hated on, me or the poor religious oriented American (why do LGBT and religion have to be exclusive?)?

      • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

        Your fairy tale missed his point entirely.

        There are a number of pretty good research websites on-line that would be made available via a "poke holes" system instead of a "block bad stuff" system. In these research sites there are quite a few studies on child developement in gay households (relative to how many studies there actually are).

        That's because these are *gasp!* academic websites! I'm not even talking Wikipedia here, though that would almost certainly be allowed as well.

        Your fairy tale assumes that

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Public education should have standards on EDUCATION. What a locality wants to do beyond that should be off limits to the Feds. As long as they don't try to indoctrinate based religion/race it should be fine. The problem with education is that the system is keeping parents out and then blaming them for it.

      1. Federal Laws protect much more than religion & race. If you don't like that, please ask your state to opt out of the US of A.
      2. Parents can be as involved as they want to in their child's education.
      3. Twice you've said something to the effect that parents are "kept out". [Citation Needed] because I have no clue WTF you're talking about.

    • by droopycom (470921) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:25PM (#27647497)

      Frankly I do not believe they need internet access outside of what is required to finish a class assignment.

      Yeah, and they dont need books outside of the one required for their classes. Nor should they being able to watch any videos programs unless they are some kind of homework... Good lord, I dont want my kids to ever develop any kind of independent thoughts that might reflect bad on me. They dont need to hear the thoughts from other people than their parents. Those are MY children after all, they should think like me and act like me...

      • they dont need books outside of the one required for their classes

        There's a strong argument to be made that most books will contribute to a child's education, which of course is the point you're making. However, the vast majority of the internet won't contribute to a child's education more than they could get by just reading a decent book. In addition, websites tend to promote extreme views which is exactly what you don't want to present to children in an educational setting.

        Nor should they being able to watch any videos programs unless they are some kind of homework

        In school they shouldn't be allowed to watch any videos that aren't related to their education.

        They dont need to hear the thoughts from other people than their parents. Those are MY children after all, they should think like me and act like me

        You

      • They do not need internet access *in school* *provided by the school* outside what they need for classwork

        They do not need books *in school* or *provide by the school* outside of what they need for classwork

        What they do at home is up to their parents, and under the control of their parents

        The school should either, not block anything - unlikely, or whitelist websites that the child needs to access and block everything else

        Blocking a list provided by an outside company, does not work and cannot work ... it wi

    • by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:26PM (#27647513)

      Frankly I do not believe they need internet access outside of what is required to finish a class assignment.

      Ok, now create a system that A: Knows all student's current class and extra-credit assignments, at all times; B: Knows what student is accessing which computer wherever they are on the campus; C: Knows what websites are relevant to each assignment and student at all times; D: Can then enforce that on a case-by-case basis.

      B is difficult, but could probably be dealt with. If you solved all the rest, D is not a major problem. A and C are nearly impossible: They actually require the system to know more than the teachers (A) (remember: many assignments are along the line of 'pick a topic and write a report on it') and Google (C) simultaneously.

      Good luck with that. In the meantime, I can see why schools would put in blocks on 'known non-relevant' sites, for sites that should never be needed for any class assignment. (And, since it's not on adults, I can even see decent arguments for doing so.)

    • by Sockatume (732728)
      realize freedoms you claim the students don't have should not be granted by the system over the wishes of their parents

      The system doesn't grant them those freedoms, they're supposed to be self-evident and innate. The only thing "the system" did is take away some of them. You can argue for censorship and the removal of freedoms, sure, but don't misrepresent the nature of the argument.
    • by DarkVader (121278)

      That has to be one of the most ridiculous and offensive things I've ever read on Slashdot.

      Students are individuals, not property of their parents. Parents should not get to filter everything.

      And yes, school is about education - and should not be about doing busywork class assignments, but about real education. And real education requires access to information, one of the best sources of which today is the internet. Having it available only in a creampuff filtered version is doing a serious disservice to

    • by BungaDunga (801391) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:44PM (#27647853)
      I had to do research on (illegal) drugs for a school project in middle school. Guess what? Very legit sites about the deleterious effects of various drugs were blocked at school.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      People love to demonize parents for not getting involved in the lives of the children but when those children are outside of their control for eight hours a day what are they to do?

      They are to grow up themselves and realize that their children can never prepare for a live out from under their skirts if they are continually kept under their thumb.

      If you cannot give your children the grounding at home to go out in the world and still function as an independent unit, perhaps parenting is "not your bag".

      If the message you are delivering at home is so uncompelling that your children immediately go out and decide you're an idiot, perhaps your message is inadequate.

      Children are tiny humans.

    • As long as they don't try to indoctrinate based religion/race it should be fine.

      So you seem to agree that it wouldn't be OK for a school to censor/filter in a way that favors or disfavors a particular religion or race.

      But then why is it OK to censor/filter in a way that favors or disfavors a particular subculture? A particular social class? A particular lifestyle? A particular gender? A particular viewpoint? A particular genetic predisposition?

      Would it be OK to censor/filter out any reference to autism (let's say, for the sake of argument, that a community felt that autism was an abomi

    • by m0s3m8n (1335861)
      Amen bro. Could not have said it better.
    • Why should young people be the property of their parents until they turn 18?

      "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. "

  • by mc1138 (718275) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:03PM (#27647129) Homepage
    There has been a rush to really start cracking down on what people can do at work or school via the internet. Most often these implementations are reactionary measures to a discovery that people are doing all sorts of things that admin types deem as unacceptable, although in many cases people were never actually informed of this... Anyway, the root here is really a lack of understanding and communication on what is actually expected of people, and how this goal should be gone about.
  • Why does the article go on to talk about designing a double-blind study for judging the "maturity" of teenagers?

    • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:34PM (#27647653)

      Yes, Bennett Haselton is famous for being verbose and embedding extraneous arguments within a larger debate (sometimes diluting his original point).

      In this case, his point about scientifically judging the maturity of teenagers is that it would entirely obviate, using rigorous evidence, the need for these web-blockers at all (at least for people above a certain age). That would certainly be progress (rather than debating about how much to block, wouldn't be nice if we had a good metric by which to say "we don't need to worry about censoring at all for this class of people").

      We have arbitrary social rules about when someone is "old enough" to do certain things (drive a car, drink alcohol, buy porn). These standards vary wildly from culture to culture (in some cultures, even adults are not allowed those things), and are never based on evidence. Just "gut feelings" about maturity. So he proposes that some standard be established, and that standard tested against average adults, teenagers, children, etc. If it can be shown that a 15-year old is statistically indistinguishable from a 28-year old in terms of how they are able to reason logically, and how they react to, say, pornography; then it doesn't make sense to block the 15-year old from porn sites.

      I agree with Haselton on this point. It's ridiculous that in this day and age we are still basing most of our legal rulings on untested "gut feelings" about how people behave, and how they are affected by external events/forces. We can do better.

    • by Bieeanda (961632)
      Because Haselton has such a bug up his ass about censorship, he won't even allow himself to edit his essays.
  • by A. B3ttik (1344591) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:11PM (#27647271)
    Exactly what laws is the school breaking by not allowing them to access certain sites?

    It may be wrong and hardheaded and backwards... but I'm sorry... it _is_ the schoolboard's right to do it. If they really wanted to, they could block Mac Sites and keep IBM sites or block Evolution Sites and keep Creationist ones. They're not bound by the US Constitution since they're not the Federal Government and I highly doubt that you can classify a local school board as the State Government, so they're probably not bound by the State's Constitution, either. The schoolboard is subject to state _laws_ and local ordinances, neither of which say anything about this, I am guessing.

    This sort of thing is determined at PTO meetings by elected school board officials, and therefore, the appropriate action is to take it before the schoolboard, before a PTO meeting, and to parents and teachers who make the decisions, not some judge who is likely to uphold whatever the aforemetioned committee happens to decide, even if it's something as stupid as the right to ban a kid for wearing a t-shirt.

    This may sound weird and backwards and stupid but I actually think that's how it should be: the local community decides what they want, specifically, so long as it meets certain state standards. Some may want 5th Grade Sex Education, others may want to wait until high school. Some may want to "shield" their kids from the influences of the world and keep out anything related to sexuality, others may think it's important to teach tolerance. Certainly, if this were a predominantly Quaker Community, nobody would even raise an eyebrow. And if you don't like the community, there are several million others in the US to choose from.
    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      They're not bound by the US Constitution since they're not the Federal Government and I highly doubt that you can classify a local school board as the State Government, so they're probably not bound by the State's Constitution, either. The schoolboard is subject to state _laws_ and local ordinances, neither of which say anything about this, I am guessing.

      <img src="facepalm.jpg">

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      They're not bound by the US Constitution since they're not the Federal Government and I highly doubt that you can classify a local school board as the State Government, so they're probably not bound by the State's Constitution, either. The schoolboard is subject to state _laws_ and local ordinances, neither of which say anything about this, I am guessing.

      A. If they're taking Federal Funds (which almost everyone is) then they're stuck with whatever rules the Feds tie the money to. If they're taking State Funds (which almost everyone is) then they're stuck with whatever rules the State ties the money to.

      B. How the fuck do you get to the conclusion that there is anything in the USA not bound by the US Constitution. Further, how the fuck do you get to the conclusion that there is anything in [State] not bound by [State]'s Constitution? Even Bush had to go to Cu

      • Uh... NO.

        You have NO IDEA what the Constitution is for, do you?

        It is to prevent the Federal Government, and by some interpretations, the State Government, from infringing on your rights. NO ONE ELSE.

        Your Constitutional Rights are infringed all the time... and rightly so. Try and exercise your 1st Amendment Rights by yelling FIRE in a movie theater. You'll get arrested. Try and exercise your religious rights as a Muslim by praying your prayers in a Catholic Church during a service. Try and exercise
    • by DarkVader (121278)

      You have a serious misunderstanding of constitutional law.

      Local school boards, cities, and states most certainly ARE bound by the US Constitution.

      • Tell that to my local Mayor who passed a law banning Lawn Signs... even on private property. Yes, he's allowed to do that. He's not the Federal Government and Local Ordinances can do almost _anything_.
    • Schools do have control, but the amount of control is tempered by the rights of students and parents, especially in a public school. For instance, a PTA in a small town might say that all information be filtered through the local church website(and I know towns where 90% of the people in control go a single church). This might be construed as a violation of the civil rights. Community standards simply do not apply to this extent. To use you Quaker analogy, no matter how much the PTO believes that violen
    • The constitution applies to everyone ....

      They should not use a companies known faulty list to block access - it blocks sites that are legitimate, and does not block some that are definately not ....

      They should either get a human to regulate internet access, or whitelist the site they want their students to access ....

    • by u38cg (607297)
      And I suppose the National Guard escoring black kids to high school was petty interference too? I don't wish to equate the situations but the idea that government should take no role in policy at all is atrocious. Americans of all people should know just how nasty, cruel, and mean-spirited a small community can be.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:14PM (#27647325)

    The Seattle Women's Jizz Orchestra isn't pornographic?! How could you possibly come to that conclu--

    Wait, what's that? Jazz, you say?

    Oh. Ohhhhhhhhhh....

    Never mind.

  • I recently replaced my Surfcontrol product. I reviewed around 20 different products and had live demos of several.

    Every single product had a way to re-categorize sites. Each provided a way to "allow" access to a site, regardless of the category.

    I don't understand how this "cannot be fixed."

    I'm currently running on a very restrictive network which has the iPrism, 8e6, and Websense filters all in place at the same time. Each of the article's listed websites are not blocked. ATAH, HRC, GLAAD, none of them

  • The Internet is the greatest tool for free speech and learning in all of human history. It has the power to put everyone on equal footing in terms of knowledge-power. Some of us see the this extremely powerful technology for what it is, a liberator with the ability to challenge existing hierarchical structures. Organized religion, corporate advertising, government deception, and restrictive social norms all crumble when the people can learn the truth.

    The established leaders and their conservative allies

    • by cptnapalm (120276)

      No. The internet is *potentially* the greatest tool for free speech and learning in all of human history. In reality, it is mostly for porn, games and telling other people that they are idiots.

      I'm rather more concerned about "hate speech" censorship than other forms of censorship because that is what is growing the fastest.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:30PM (#27647583) Journal

    ...I'd be fine with a filter that stops the GBT, but letting L through would be fine. :)

    (And yes, I understand the idiomatic usage, but aren't L's actually just a subset of G? Why do they get their own category like that?)

  • A blocking program should consist of two parts: a very simple blocking algorithm, and a plain-text list of sites to block. That should be trivial to implement, and easy to freely distribute. That way libraries and schools could easily say "Yes, we are running blocking software" even if the list of sites to block is empty.

    It would also allow parents to demand to see the list of blocked sites, and to argue among themselves about whether a particular site should be added to (or deleted from) the list - in o
  • by uigrad_2000 (398500) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:42PM (#27647799) Homepage Journal

    The ACLU has happened on yet one more issue that would be completely a non-issue if schools were not an extension of government.

    Schools should be able to do whatever they want, or whatever the parents want.

    When the Bill of Rights was written, it's intention was to restrict what laws congress writes, not the sites should be in whitelists and blacklists in a web filter.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cptnapalm (120276)

      "The ACLU has happened on yet one more issue that would be completely a non-issue if schools were not an extension of government."

      I'm currently of the opinion that there shouldn't be any government schools at all. Sure, give people vouchers or whatever and require an education of some sort. There is no reason why the government should be doing it directly.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    None of you have children? There is a cadence to growing up. There is a an appropriate age for gaining such knowledge. Unless you are trying to indoctrinate young minds full of mush, what is the purpose in providing this content?

  • Half the kids can't read anyway. Or solve the equation "x = 5" for x. The content of the school's Internet filter seems a bit far down the list of real concerns.
  • by Theovon (109752) on Monday April 20, 2009 @12:58PM (#27648125)

    I'm iffy on the whole concept of blocking content. People just need to learn to surf responsibly, and teach their children right and wrong. And no matter what, children are going to be exposed to smut, mostly by their peers.

    That being said, there are clear cases where the sensorship is wrong, and technical explanations are not adequate excuses.

    Professionally, I worked as a chip designer and software developer for air traffic control systems. I've made my share of mistakes. I've coded bugs and had to fix them. But when that happens, I take it VERY seriously. Yes, the ATC systems have sophisticated fail-over systems, but the last thing I want is to have ANY chance of increasing the probability of putting airline passengers in danger. "Oops, sorry." doesn't cut it, and once a bug is discovered, I certainly can't dismiss it. I have to fix it right away!

    If you know anything about this history of the USA and plenty of other free countries, you know that people are willing to trade their lives for freedom from oppression. And I generally think of censorship as oppression. Of course, I'd prefer that there were no blocking software. But with it being there, all I can say is that there's no excuse for leaving discovered blocking errors unfixed for any length of time. People's rights are being infringed, and the people who develop these blockers need to take those rights seriously.

    As long as there is censorship, there's going to be a slippery slope. The law must protect people against abuses of censorship laws. There needs to be checks and balances. There are laws that let the police search your home. The check against that is that they have to have a warrant issued by a judge, which means they need to show significant probably cause. A balance against that is called "exigent circumstances", where if they believe someone's life is in danger, they can enter a home even without a warrant. The balance against THAT is that even WITH exigent circumstances, things they find in your home are likely to be inadmissable in court. Likewise, with censorship laws, there needs to be other laws that come with penalties for abuse of the censorship laws. If you censor, you're taking on a huge responsibility, because false positives and false negatives are not something you can just brush off.

  • God, this is old news! Any so-called blocklist, where some faceless group of people you don't know - and who quite possibly have values contrary to yours - are making decisions what you should and should not be allowed to see, is intrinsically bad.

    Given that, how exactly are blocklists any less of an infringement of personal rights than a heavy-handed government telling people what to do? Why is it that some government-hating reactionaries who are terrified of government intrusion into their lives will hy

  • Vegan shirt ban (Score:3, Informative)

    by LoverOfJoy (820058) on Monday April 20, 2009 @01:08PM (#27648303) Homepage

    A judge in Utah once ruled in favor of a school that suspended a student for wearing a t-shirt with the word 'Vegan'. (Do you think the judge would have made the same ruling if the student's t-shirt had said 'Christian'?)

    While I think I disagree with the judges ruling, the incident occurred because of a "gang" problem. It's less about banning the word vegan and more closely related to banning gang symbols. There's a group in Salt Lake City (and other places as well) called the Straight Edge movement. They encourage the vegan lifestyle among other things but at least in that area they were using violence to promote their ethical stand.

    School administrators went overboard but I don't think it's fair to compare banning a particular vegan sweatshirt to banning a tshirt that says Christian. If the local community was having a gang problem that used a particular cross symbol on their sweatshirts I'm not sure that same community wouldn't have tried to ban that sweatshirt. (I still think they'd be going about fighting the problem the wrong way and that they'd be in the wrong, but I wouldn't outright dismiss the possibility of them acting that way as absurd).

    It's not like they were just going around banning shirts that support causes they disagree with. If they had a list of banned items that included "Vegan", "Environmentalism", "Obama", etc. I'd be much more in agreement with the rhetorical question used.

  • whose only chance to have any social interaction with that superhot chick is when she needs him to teach her how to configure tor, or that anoymous proxy, or even just rdp

    so please slashdot, for the sake of geek kinship, just let this whole issue slide

    leave the poor 14 year old geek's only source of social capital in the brutal world of high school society intact

  • Teenagers as adults? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Toonol (1057698) on Monday April 20, 2009 @03:28PM (#27650713)
    You were fairly sympathetic until you started to make the absolutely insane claim that teenagers should be treated as adults. I have two sons, 15 and 19. Great kids, and they're probably more mature and responsible than most of their friends. But they are not adults. Treating them as such would substantially hurt their development.

    (They can be given responsibilities in doses, to help them grow; that's necessary, good, but clear proof that they are still in the process of maturation.)

"It is easier to fight for principles than to live up to them." -- Alfred Adler

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