CAN'T JUDGE INTERNET SITES BY THEIR SERVERS - Daily Mail Columnist Comments On Hur Herald Porn Block

(05/03/2002)

Dave Peyton Daily Mail columnist

May 02 2002

We can't judge Internet sites by their servers Hur Herald's ease shows the danger of federal filtering

Imagine Bob Weaver's surprise when he learned that his online newspaper, the Hur Herald, was considered a pornographic Web site in the eyes of the West Virginia Department of Education.

Weaver and his wife, Dianne, publish one of the best online-only community newspapers in the nation. He serves his native Calhoun County and surrounding counties well. The Weavers pride themselves on covering events in the county better than any other publication.

While running down a story about a virus that had struck the computers at Calhoun County High School, the Weavers found out that the students at the school, who love to read the online publication, couldn't get it any more.

Why? The folks operating the filtering program that has been imposed on school and library computers systems in the state had determined that The Hur Herald was a pornographic site.

What does it prove? Nearly everyone agrees it proves that filtering programs don't work and are, in fact, a threat to freedom. That's why the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union have joined forces to take the federal government to court for ordering filtering programs for computers in classrooms and libraries, which receive federal funds.

As soon as the Weavers heard the news that the state's filtering program had blocked The Hur Herald (www.hurherald.com), they began wondering why.

"At first, I thought maybe they'd blocked us because we reported on a local womanless beauty pageant where men dressed up like women, complete with pictures," Bob said. Some of those pictures were pretty ugly, but they weren't pornographic."

Then he thought that perhaps the program was blocking The Hur Herald because of some word or series of words that were on the site. These filtering programs are notorious for blocking such words as "breast," even though the site may deal with the important issue of breast cancer.

Finally, said Bob, an official with the state Department of Education figured it out.

"The problem is linked to The Herald being on an out-of-state server which may also serve pornographic sites," Bob reported.

The filtering program has determined that the Internet provider that contains The Hur Herald also contains Web sites that have pornographic material. So the program bars users from viewing anything on that server, including The Hur Herald.

The hard, cold reality is this: Pornography is big business on the Internet. Those who lease Web server space get lots of money to rent that space to those pay-per-view porno people. At the same time, most of these same Internet providers rent space to others -- churches, respectable groups offering sites for kids, and highly acclaimed educational organizations.

The filtering software the state Department of Education is using is based on the belief that everyone using a specific server is running a pornographic Web site. It's imperfect and needlessly censorial. But, of course, every filtering program has its faults and smacks of a censorship that violates the First Amendment.

Here's hoping the U.S. Supreme Court sees it the same way and will tell the federal government to back off its mandate requiring these programs on computers in schools, libraries and other public institutions.

After all, the federal bureaucracy is big enough without becoming "Big Brother."

Peyton's column appears in the Daily Mail on Monday and Thursday.


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