Groups organize cyber-protest of Internet filtering legislation

Monday, May 11, 1998


Several cyber-liberty groups are sponsoring a “Speak Out Against Censorware” “cyber-march” today, urging citizens to e-mail or fax their senators messages opposing the mandatory installation of filtering software in schools and libraries.


The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center oppose Sen. John McCain's Internet School Filtering Act.


McCain's proposal, Senate Bill 1619, would require schools to install filtering software on all computers in order to receive universal service discounts for Internet access. Libraries would have to certify that at least one computer terminal is equipped with filters to receive the discounts.


McCain said he introduced the bill in order to “protect children from exposure to sexually explicit and other harmful material when they access the Internet in school and in the library.”


The American Family Association supports the bill. Group spokesman Buddy Smith said: “We are actively promoting the McCain bill in opposition to the stance taken by the American Library Association.


“We would like a piece of federal legislation to go further than the McCain bill, but we support it in hopes that it will move our society one step closer to put pressure on the Department of Justice and the present administration to start doing their jobs of protecting us from this trash and garbage on the Internet.”


However, the ACLU and others argue the measure is unconstitutional. In a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee, the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote: “Blocking software restricts access to valuable, protected online speech about topics including safe sex, AIDS and even web sites posted by religious groups such as the Society of Friends and the Glide United Methodist Church.”


Larry Ottinger, senior staff counsel for the People for the American Way applauds the groups' efforts. He said: “I certainly support the protest of the McCain bill. It is vitally important to get a clear message sent to Congress that this measure should not be approved.”


David Sobel, legal counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said: “We think it's important for members of the Senate to understand that filtering software is controversial and that there are better alternatives that raise fewer constitutional problems.”


Sobel said the protest was planned for today, because the Senate could vote on the bill as soon as sometime later this week. “No one really knows for sure when they'll vote, but we know it will be soon. That's why it is so important to get the message out right now,” he said.


Those interested in participating in the “cyber-march” may go to the following links: http://www.aclu.org/congress/cybmarch.html; http://www.eff.org/blueribbon/; http://www.epic.org/free_speech/action/.