Internet filtering of court computers raises ire of judge

Tuesday, May 5, 1998

The recent installation of Internet filtering software on federal court computers in several judicial circuits does not sit well with at least one appeals court judge.

Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit discovered to his surprise a few weeks ago that WebSense, a filtering software program, had been installed on court computers by the Administrative Office of the Courts without the judges' knowledge.

Kozinski discovered an inaccessible sex site instead of a Disney page he was expecting while testing Internet search software, The San Francisco Daily Journal reported.

Greg Walters, the executive for the Administrative Office of the Courts in San Francisco, told the paper that the decision was made in early April to install the product on computers in the 8th, 9th and 10th judicial circuits in order to prevent employees from visiting sexually oriented web sites.

Walters told The San Francisco Daily Journal: “We're in the early stages of this, so we decided to use the default blocking, which blocks everyone's access. We didn't anticipate judges being upset, and I'm surprised they are.”

Kozinski said he is upset by the installation of the blocking software. “I can't speak on the legal issues. However, the decision to install the blocking software without consulting the judges bothers me,” he said. “This decision is something judges ought to be consulted about both from a policy perspective and due to the legal implications, namely whether there is a First Amendment problem.”

David Greene of the National Campaign for the Freedom of Expression said: “It is very disturbing that the U.S. court administration would institute a policy like this, because I would hope that courts would be more sensitive to free-speech issues.

“Filtering software is simply not the equivalent of a court making constitutional judgments. There is no technology currently available that can make these distinctions. Filtering software programs sure do block constitutionally protected material,” Greene said.

Walters conceded to The San Francisco Daily Journal that WebSense is “not 100% accurate at all.”