The Bove and Rhodes Report
Insight on computers and media | by Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes | Aug. 21, 1997

Haight-Ashbury Censored!

We were upset to find out that our site has been banned by Cyber Patrol, one of the leading blocking programs.

We probably would never have known, if it hadn't been for an email from an organization called Peacefire that monitors censorship on the Internet.

Cyber Patrol is one of a number of blocking programs that President Clinton and others have been advocating as a follow-up to the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which was struck down by the Supreme Court. CyberPatrol, and others like it, are used in hundreds of public schools and libraries across the country. In these places, students and patrons presently do not have access to our web site as a result of Cyber Patrol blocking it.

The defeat of the CDA means that site owners like us won't be thrown in jail. However, you should be aware that sites are blocked for a variety of reasons besides pornography. Unfortunately, parents still think they need these blocking programs to keep Internet smut out of the reach of their children. Opportunists have moved in to make money by pushing blocking programs and keeping lists of "bad" sites. The profit-taking mentality has led to the blocking of any sites that criticize the blocking software or company that produced it. Thus, Peacefire itself has been blocked, and its ISP threatened, just because the organization exists and is opposed to blocking programs. The American Civil Liberties Union is one of many organizations that recognizes the long-term implications of schemes to regulate and block controversial online speech.

Why is our site blocked? It doesn't offer any nude pictures, but it does have a page that argues against censorship, featuring a censored image of the famous John Lennon and Yoko Ono nude album cover. Perhaps it was an excerpt of an essay by Allen Ginsberg, or the writings of Timothy Leary, whose books occupy prominent places in just about every library in the world.

We used the Netly News search engine to see that Cyber Patrol had characterized our site with the keyword "Druggy" (as in referring to drugs), along with such venerable sites as The Drug Reform Coordination Network's Drug Library, the world's largest repository of drug policies.

Other sites banned by Cyber Patrol at one time or another include Planned Parenthood, the Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance, and various atheist and feminist newgsroups. For a while even the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was blocked, even though the Cyber Patrol web site displayed the EFF's blue ribbon for Internet free speech, grafted on top of the Cyber Patrol logo. In fact, sites that are dedicated to freedom of speech, including the MIT Student Association for Freedom of Expression, the AIDS Authority site, Mother Jones magazine (a progressive/leftist monthly), the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression, and the alt.atheism and soc.feminism newsgroups are blocked.

Wow! We must be ignorant parents, for we see no reason why our children should be prevented from reading about feminism, atheism, freedom of expression, drug policy, abortion, and religious tolerance.

At least the CDA was something that could be reasonably challenged in court. With the new censorship industry, consumers have no way of knowing what sites are blocked. When online journalists criticize this industry, the online publications are blocked by it, and some of these opportunists have even threatened criminal investigations and copyright infringement lawsuits.

Like some well-known politicians, the smut blockers play the pornography angle but wield their newfound power to put forward a right-wing, conservative agenda.

We wrote to Cyber Patrol asking them to remove us from the banned list. The company has an appeals process, and an "oversight committee" meets every two months to decide appeals. If you can't wait two months for these people to decide, then tough shit. And who are these people who decide? According to Cyber Patrol, they are members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Morality in Media, women's rights groups, the teacher's union and the PTO, as well as a superintendent of schools, a social worker, a psychologist and a minister.

In our opinion, some of these folks should be ashamed to be a part of this campaign against freedom of speech. The partners who endorse these programs should rethink their endorsements -- for example, all "family" computers made by Acer are automatically equipped with Cyber Patrol. But the worst offenders, in our opinion, are the many magazines that reviewed the blocking software's features without mentioning the wide variety of sites that are blocked. We were surprised to see that c|net rates Cyber Patrol as "the best filtering software available... unbeatable." Others list it in their "must have" Internet tool sets.

It is shameful, for it is speech that is blocked, not porn. To make matters worse, some of these blocking software companies are obviously cutting costs and blocking sites without actually surfing them (for example, the America On-Line Sucks site is also blocked, perhaps because America On-Line is a Cyber Patrol partner).

Why should you care? If you reached this site and you're reading this, you probably don't use blocking software. But you probably have an opinion about an industry that uses the porn issue to denigrate all freedom of speech on the Internet. Perhaps you are an avocate of children's rights, or at least the right of parents to know what their children are blocked from reading. Most of you are probably fans of literature, so you should know that children everywhere are blocked from reading the same literature that you were free to read as a child.

Next time you wonder why there aren't many talented novelists, writers, movie directors, and songwriters emerging, remember the computer industry maxim: garbage in, garbage out.

Be seeing you...

-- Tony Bove, Aug. 21, 1997. Comments?

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Copyright © 1997 Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes