Seth Finkelstein / MIT SAFE Information about Labeling and Rating Systems

Boston's Mayor Menino Demands Public Library Censorship
Read the rest of the material here to see why this was both predictable, and an atrocious idea.

Computers and Academic Freedom labeling references
An annotated list of more reference information.
Purchase Of Blocking Software By Public Libraries Is Unconstitutional
A Briefing Paper by Jonathan D. Wallace, Esq.
... intended for use by free speech advocates to oppose the installation of blocking software such as Cyberpatrol, Surfwatch, NetNanny or Cybersitter in public libraries.
The Use of Filtering Software in Public Libraries
Legal memo written by a Florida County Attorney on whether the library can implement filtering software to restrict access to sites on the Internet and whether viewing offensive images and text qualifies as "disruptive behavior" requiring the patron to leave the library.
(and this answer is basically "No" on all counts)
ACLU White Paper: Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning?
"How Rating and Blocking Proposals May Torch Free Speech on the Internet"
(ALA) Resolution on the use of internet filter
Not mincing words:
RESOLVED, That the American Library Association affirms that the use of filtering software by libraries to block access to constitutionally protected speech violates the Library Bill of Rights.
(ALA) Statement on Internet Filtering
A longer explanation, again,
The American Library Association affirms that the use of filtering software by libraries to block access to constitutionally protected speech violates the Library Bill of Rights.
Comics Code, 1954 version
Just what are the standards for a label? Well, read this and weep. This is what a comic had to obey to receive an "approved" label, 1954-1971.
For example, "Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority."
Comics Code, 1971 version
The revised standards for comics, 1971, after a major publisher defied the 1954 standards to write a story with the moral - get this - drugs are evil. Under 1954 version, illegal drugs couldn't be mentioned at all, even to moralize against them. Now it's acceptable to mention them, but only in the context of propaganda against them (read and see).
The PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) press release
PICS is the initiative to provide technology for a rating system for the World-Wide-Web. It's very interesting to see who's signed up. Despite all the protestations of content-neutrality, there will probably be one rating system that "matters", and an unrated WWW page will then get about as far as an unrated movie. That is, not quite illegal, but very hard to distribute.
MIT article on PICS
Note how much is just rewritten press release
Discussion: Against Internet ratings and PICS - censorship in disguise?
A long discussion from netnews about the potential censorship effects and dangers of ratings, focused on Internet concerns.
Internet Blocking Software and Privatized Censorship
A sort of "primer" piece on the points in the discussion above.
Reasonable, Effective, and Appropriate Censorship
A report on the "American Reporter v. Reno" court case, containing an excellent outline of how labeling schemes combine with intimidation to produce censorship.
RSACi ratings dissected
An article by Charlie Stross describing, as he puts it, "Why the RSACi internet rating scheme sucks rocks -- in detail". (of you can't connect ot the UK, the article is mirrored here).

It's amusing and scary reading, but the best parts are what goes into the ratings themselves:

"Examples of Nudity: ... Exposed buttocks of Bart Simpson or Elmer Fudd", RSACi, PICS, and Usenet censorship
The dominoes are starting to fall, RSACi ratings are imposed:
Our policies will require all our users to RSACi rate their Web pages by the end of the year and all the recommended software will be PICS enabled as standard.
(emphasis added)

Demon Internet and Censorship
The official text of the Demon censorship announcement
The UK "Safety-Net" program
All the pieces fall into place:
The "R3 Safety-Net" approach endorses the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) and the RSACi rating scheme for W3 pages. "R3 Safety-Net" recommends that Service providers: ... Require all their users to rate their own web pages using RSACi.
(emphasis added)
Rating the Net - a draft paper by Jonathan Weinberg
In the midst of the general enthusiasm, though, it is worth trying to locate the technology's limitations and drawbacks. Blocking software is a huge step forward in solving the dilemma of sexually explicit speech on the Net, but it does come at a cost. People whose image of the Net is mediated through blocking software will miss out on worthwhile speech -- through deliberate exclusion, through inaccuracies in labeling inherent to the filtering process, and through the restriction of unrated sites.
The Net Labelling Delusion
Ironically, an increasing number of the original proponents of filtering software are becoming much less enthused as a host of new issues arise. Filtering programs and labelling look set to become privatised censorship disguised as consumer information backed by government coercion.
EFA Condemns Internet Rating System
Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) has condemned the RSACi Internet labelling system, on the grounds that it is parochial, inflexible, and archaic.
Campaign for Internet Freedom
"The Campaign for Internet Freedom is opposed to all attempts to censor and regulate the internet from news group bans to the use of PICS."
The Association of Online Professionals endorses RSACi ratings
This is another piece asserting that we must set up a (privately-adminstered) censorship system to avoid a (government-administered) censorship system - they say as much:
"It is obvious that we have not seen the last of the attempts to regulate the online industry," notes Dave McClure, Executive Director, AOP. "The only way to fend off these attempts is to demonstrate that the industry has an effective system for parental control and that outside interference is unnecessary."
A Dozen Reasons Why Schools Should Avoid Filtering
A sober article from the Filtering the Web - March/April, 1996 issue of From Now On, "Electronic Commentary on Educational Technology Issues". It recounts points of opposition in a style that may be well-suited for frightened educators.
Censorware - How well does Internet filtering software protect students?
This article from Electronic School examines the issue with excellent depth in a concise manner, and has an extensive collection of reference links
Filters, homosexuality, responsibility, and so forth
A eye-opening tale about how installing CyberSitter in a library mangled cataloging records having to do with gay resources. Much good discussion about how such programs relate to gay and lesbian issues.
CyberAngels, Part 1 - Descending On The Net
Selected articles from a Usenet discussion, where the CyberAngels Director attempts to defend himself and his mission.
CyberAngels, Part 2 - Interpreting Holy Writ
More articles from a Usenet discussion, with many very lengthy and substantive dissections of labeling issues. Don't miss the part where the Angel rates the Bible!
SafeSurf's official Frequently Asked Questions
This is a direct quote:
"Severe legal penalties will be reserved for those sites containing adult material which entice children by coding themselves as child safe." - What type of penalties do you envision ?
Severe legal penalties currently exist for anyone who sexually abuses children. The same penalties can be applied to anyone who abuses the system to entice children to adult material.
Disputed ratings as child molestation? I didn't make this up.
SafeSurf's Ratings System
The detailed view of what SafeSurf thinks needs to be stigmatized. Great stuff, seems to be an outline of what preachers are always denouncing in sermons. Too bad there isn't a "Religious" themes category.
Internet Censorship Yields Software Profit
The government-backed business of on-line decency and Internet censorship is beginning to generate big profits.
(emphasis added)
A Washington Technology Online article analyzes some of interconnections between governments in the censorship business and censorship businesses aiding government repression.
The PICS standard is the scariest censorship technology yet
Resnick and Miller have done a great job designing a framework for censorship. I don't think I could have done it better myself. They've designed a system that is technically strong, robust, and scalable.
CyberWire Dispatch - Jacking in from the "Keys to the Kingdom" Port
Think blocking programs just ban "porn"? Well, think again.
"That's the rub. It's a bait and switch maneuver. The smut-censors say they're going after porn, but they quietly restrict political speech."
CyberPatrol bans animal rights web sites - Part 1
One big myth about blocking programs is that they are just filtering out "porn". NO. It's whatever the makers of the program deem "offensive".
CyberPatrol bans animal rights web sites - Part 2
In which the general connections betwen labeling and censorship are discussed. Much attention is given to establishing that government censorship is involved here.
CyberPatrol bans animal rights web sites - Part 3
Some philosophical fallout, included for completeness.
CyberPatrol bans "The Booksmith"
Have anything, anywhere that is considered "erotic"? That's enough to get it on the blacklist. Books are dangerous, you know. They can cause people to question authority.
CyberPatrol vs. Pagans
Are Pagans "Satanic/Cult"? Well, CyberPatrol thought so ... They've never actually explained how this happened.
Cyber Patrol Bans Crypt Newsletter
My Web site was blocked as a byproduct of a ban on another page on the same server. ... Perhaps I should have been reassured that Cyber Patrol wasn't banning sites for simply ridiculing authority figures, a favorite American past time. But if anything, I was even more astonished to discover the company's scattershot approach to blocking. It doesn't include precise URLs in its database.
CyberPatrol blacklists Industrial Workers of the World
Great rhetoric here
The boss class has always tried to stifle the voice of the IWW because we scare the hell out of them, no matter how small we are. ... So, CyberPatrol bootlicking lackeys, here's my challenge: Show the courage of your slimy capitalist convictions and give us the label we deserve: Red.
CyberPatrol, TRAVMAG, and Demon Internet
Suppose you're running an internet travel magazine, and suddenly find people telling you they can't reach it because it's blocked by a "smut filtering system" (was it those pictures of Tahiti? Jamaica? Do those infamous bare-breasted natives depicted in National Geographic qualify?). Then it turns out you simply had the bad luck to be on a large internet provider where EVERYONE is blocked (I guess they aren't taking any chances ...). Couldn't happen? Read and see.


Why does CyberSitter have a section all to itself? Because their President, Brian Milburn:

He also gets honorable mention for calling CyberWire Dispatch writer Brock Meeks "a trickle of piss in the river of life", but honestly that can't be ranked with the extortionate behavior above.
CyberSitter's threat of CRIMINAL PROSECUTION for expose
They didn't like what the article Keys to the Kingdom revealed about them, to put it mildly.
"we will seek felony criminal prosecution under 17 USCS sect 503(a) of the Copyright Act, and are preparing documentation to submit with the criminal complaint to FBI [sic]."
The CyberSitter Diaper Change - Declan McCullagh
A follow-up to the revelations in the article Keys to the Kingdom, and CyberSitter's threats.
Finally, it's a kind of intellectual bait-and-switch. The "smut blockers" grab power by playing to porn, then they wield it to advance a right-wing, conservative agenda. Family values activists would never have been able to pass a law that blocks as many sites as CyberSitter does
CyberWire Dispatch - Jacking in from the "Your Agenda is Showing"
Another follow-up, again dealing with CyberSitter's threats and reactions to people writing about what they blacklist.
Porn sites aren't the only ones blocked. Sites with decided political or activist agendas, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) or animal rights groups, also are blocked. Trouble is, these blocking software programs don't make this known to the user. For some companies, shedding a spotlight on their underlying agenda, makes them sweat bullets or foam at the ascii mouth. ...
CYBERsitter: Where do we not want you to go today?
An excellent expose of CyberSitter by Bennett Haselton, for the organization PeaceFire. This is yet another article that CyberSitter threatened to sue over.
Wired News: Cybersitter Goes after Teen
A basic account of one set of threats.
CyberSitter "Demand Letter"
Yet another set of threats
Response to CyberSitter's threat letter
A devasting reply by attorney James Tyre.
Cybersitter's 126 Bad Words!
It really isn't hard to find out what CyberSitter bans, here's one account of simply checking log files. See also Cybersitter Censored Pages For some reason, the author hasn't been threatened with a lawsuit.
Cybersitter Blocks The Ethical Spectacle
In an apparent act of retaliation against a critic of the company, Solid Oak Sofware has added The Ethical Spectacle to the list of Web sites blocked by its Cybersitter software. ... The Ethical Spectacle is a monthly Webzine examining the intersection of ethics, law and politics in our society, which recently urged its readers not to buy Cybersitter because of Solid Oak's unethical behavior.
Who's Watching the 'Watchers'
The Toronto Star on Cybersitter's agenda and threats
Don't buy Cybersitter!
A mirror of CYBERsitter: Where do we not want you to go today?, with additional commentary "as to why you shouldn't buy Cybersitter, and some other Cybersitter-related links, at the bottom of the page."
Ban the klan in Auckland!
No, not what you might think. Because Auckland has the phrase "klan" in it (Auc-klan-d), it ended up rendered as "Auc d" on the screen on one user who was running CyberSitter, leading to lots of confusion and a little embarassment (let's not even talk about AOL and "Scunthorpe").
An Un-Fairy Tale?
Cybersitter's message-mangling can produce "surreal" results, as odd words are chopped out of messages. "... it systematically seems to be deleting all the words the programmer finds offensive ...". Very unfair-y of them.
CyberSitter worse than a virus?
The message-mangling done by Cybersitter might be far more damaging than amusing. Imagine what happens when various software tries to process messages which have had random segments deleted ...
More Filtering Follies:

Help SurfWatch to ban material?
Scott Mcintyre received this interesting letter from the president of SurfWatch, requesting that Scott make it easier for SurfWatch to block Scott's material. I suppose that's free speech, but it sure sounds like there's more to this blocking business that one would think at first.
"NetNanny shows its true self when pushed"
"In a class on how to surf the web and use e-mail, we decided to write an inflammatory message to NetNanny to see what they were really about. Attached is the short message we sent and the response of Gordon Ross (president and ceo). It is quite amusing." - Michael D. Mehta, Ph.D.

Return to the homepage for the MIT Student Association for Freedom of Expression

This page written by Seth Finkelstein

Disclaimer: This page is a statement of opinion, and does not represent the viewpoint of the MIT Student Association for Freedom of Expression or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT bears no responsibility for its contents or documents.