Tennessee governor officially unveils statewide Internet filtering

Monday, November 16, 1998

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is the first state to provide protection from pornography for all of its public schools, Gov. Don Sundquist told members of the Tennessee School Boards Association this morning in Nashville.

Sundquist said the state had “forged a public/private partnership” called ConnectTen with the Nashville-based company Education Networks of America (ENA) to ensure safe Internet access for all public school students.

ENA, the state's contracted provider of Internet access for K-12 public school students, uses centralized filtering software developed by N2H2 Inc., a Seattle-based company. The filtering system, Bess, works on a central server rather than requiring installation on individual computers.

“This filtering system is a sensitive safeguard for our schools while at the same time being respectful of First Amendment rights and freedoms,” Sundquist said.

The governor said the system takes into account First Amendment concerns by allowing:

  • Individual school boards to decide whether to use the N2H2 filtering software.
  • Local school boards to purchase a customized filter for their schools.
  • Teachers to remove the blocking software from a particular computer when necessary.
  • Individual users to request a review electronically of whether a certain Web site should be blocked or not.

Vice President Al Gore, a Tennessee native, made videotaped remarks congratulating the state on “becoming the very first … in the entire Union to make cyberspace a safe place for all of our children in school.”

“Now children in every public K-12 school in Tennessee can have access to the Internet's vast universe of knowledge, while being protected from inappropriate content,” Gore said.

Following the governor's remarks, ENA conducted a press conference to discuss Bess and the 15 categories of material which the system will filter out in Tennessee schools, including: adults only, hate/discrimination, illegal, pornographic materials, sex, violence, chat, drugs, gambling, tasteless/gross, profanity, lingerie, nudity, school cheating information, and suicide/murder.

Al Ganier and Peter Nickerson, CEOs of ENA and N2H2 respectively, said they believe in civil liberties and the First Amendment.

“But unfettered, rampant access to the Internet will lead to children being thrown off the information superhighway,” Ganier said.

“The hallmark of this filtering system is flexibility,” said Nickerson, noting that there is undeniably inappropriate material on the Internet and that is why his company has one million pages of blocked sites in its database.

“We don't block sites (based) just on keyword searches; we actually have a review team of approximately 45 people, including parents and educators, look at potentially objectionable sites,” Nickerson.

Nickerson said that N2H2 has thus far received about 30-50 requests each day from teachers, students and parents in Tennessee to review blocked sites.

“We receive about 1,000 requests a day from people nationwide,” he said. “We do have some legitimate requests and some that are borderline, but we take those very seriously.”

Paul Van Hoesen, chief technology officer for ENA, said that this is “an ongoing process” that is sensitive to individual requests. “That is why we have the option of locally controlled filters and provide passwords to each school district,” he said.

Van Hoesen said one legitimate request that ENA decided to honor was to unlock a Web site that was used extensively as a translation tool by foreign students in the state. The site was originally blocked because it was accessible only from a chat site, one of the 15 categories that ENA has asked be blocked in Tennessee.

“The filtering software and ENA have no political agenda on blocking certain information. We want students to have access to information,” he said.