Current bills in Congress about filtering online content

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This is from an email from the CDT's "Activist Network" (info on how to join at the end). Interesting new reforms being considered that show just how much politicians don't understand about technology and think (hope?) that a blanket resolution will fix the problem.


A massive juvenile justice bill has been passed by both the House and
Senate. Included as sections 1401-1403 of the House version is a
requirement that filtering and blocking software be used by all schools and libraries receiving federal e-rate funding to connect to the Internet. Such institutions would have to filter or block access to three kinds of material: (1) child pornography, (2) obscenity, and (3) "during use by minors," material that is deemed "harmful to minors."

The Senate version of the bill does not include a school and library
filtering mandate, but section 1504 requires all Internet Service Providers with 50,000 or more subscribers to give residential customers access to filtering software either free or at cost. Last year, Congress required all ISPs to give their customers information about and access to Internet filtering software, but did not prohibit ISPs from making a profit from such services.

The two chambers are negotiating to reconcile their differing versions of the juvenile justice bill; predictions of its fate change almost daily.

For more details on the mandatory filtering language in the House version, see
For the text of the juvenile justice bill, go to


The House version of the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services includes filtering language, introduced by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK). The Istook amendment, if enacted into law, would require that any computer purchased or operated through the receipt of federal funds (including not just e-rate subsidies, but National Science Foundation grants or National Endowment for the Humanities grants, for example) must install filtering software to "ensure" that minors are prevented from accessing material that is either obscene or child pornography.

Material that is legally obscene or child pornography is already illegal under current law. However, there is no perfect, legally attuned filtering product. It is impossible to "ensure" that minors are prevented from accessing this material, and the attempt to do so would prevent both minors and adults from accessing some material that is neither obscene nor child pornography, but is deemed to be so by the software in question.

The Istook amendment attempts to force a one-size-fits-all policy for child safety onto a system of independent community libraries and school districts. It ignores the efforts of such resources as GetNetWise (, which help people find the policy or tool that best reflects their values and circumstances.

To join the CDT Activist Network, visit and enter your email address and zip code.

-- D J, October 6, 1999