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[FYI] (Fwd) Justice Department recruiting anti-filter folk to testif

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Sat, 22 Apr 2000 13:49:23 -0400
Send reply to:  	Law & Policy of Computer Communications
From:           	Declan McCullagh <declan@WIRED.COM>
Subject:        	Justice Department recruiting anti-filter folk to testify for COPA


    Feds Try Odd Anti-Porn Approach
    by Declan McCullagh (declan@wired.com)

   3:00 a.m. Apr. 22, 2000 PDT
    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Justice is quietly recruiting
    critics of filtering software to help it defend a controversial
    anti-pornography law in court.

    Government attorneys are asking librarians and academics who have
    published criticisms of the controversial filtering products to
    testify in an expected trial over the Child Online Protection Act.

    The Justice Department's reasoning is simple: If products like
    Cyberpatrol and Surfwatch are so badly flawed that they don't
    block what they should, then the judge in the case should uphold a
    federal law making it a crime to post erotica online instead.

    "What they want me for is a kind of technical assault on filtering
    software, but the end result is that nothing can protect kids on
    the Web except some kind of blanket age restriction," says John
    Bowes, an associate professor at the University of Washington. "I
    don't like filtering, but I dislike age restrictions even more."

    During hearings in the case, the government has suggested that
    websites can comply with COPA simply by cordoning off erotic
    information from the public and requiring credit card or adult
    identification numbers for access by adults.

    "What they want is someone who's an academic to testify as an
    expert witness for the government saying filters don't work," says
    Christopher Hunter, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of
    Pennsylvania, who said the government contacted him last week.

    Hunter, who has written about the flaws in filters because he
    opposes their use in libraries, said he was surprised by the
    request. "Our research, meant to defeat restrictive mandatory
    filtering laws, may now be used in support of even more
    restrictive age verification regimes," he said.

    Hunter declined to participate, but it's likely that the Justice
    Department, which appealed a preliminary loss in the COPA case,
    will be able to find someone to take the stand instead.

    That prospect creates an unusual dilemma for the American Civil
    Liberties Union, which in 1998 sued to block enforcement of COPA.

    The ACLU sometimes appears to believe parents should use such
    software, saying in COPA court documents that filtering software
    provides an "alternative means (that is) more effective at
    assisting parents in limiting a minor's access to certain

    During a joint ACLU-American Library Association lawsuit against
    the Communications Decency Act, the plaintiffs called a Surfwatch
    executive as a witness to extol the benefits of filtering.

    But the ACLU has simultaneously criticized the software, saying as
    recently as last month in court in Boston that Mattel's
    Cyberpatrol product blocks innocuous websites, not just sexually
    explicit material. The ACLU joined a lawsuit that successfully
    prevented a public library in Loudoun County, Virginia, from using
    X-Stop, and has published a report titled "Censorship in a Box"
    that lists the faults of filters.

    "I find the positions consistent," said ACLU staff attorney Chris
    Hansen. "I understand why they look inconsistent, but I find them

    Under U.S. case law, courts will usually nix a law on free speech
    grounds if there are other "less restrictive" alternatives to
    accomplish the government's goal. For the ACLU, the existence of
    filtering software -- even with its faults -- is a way to convince
    judges that there are options other than COPA.

    [...remainder snipped...]


>Reply-To: "Karen G. Schneider" <kgs@bluehighways.com>
>From: "Karen G. Schneider" <kgs@bluehighways.com>
>To: "ALA Council List"
>Cc: <declan@well.com>, "Corn-Revere, Robert L."
><CornRevere@hhlaw.com> Subject: US DOJ on Warpath Against Free
>Expression Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2000 11:34:30 -0400
>Dear Council--not to deter anyone from the really important work of
>editing the Core Values Task Force statement, but the US DOJ has been
>contacting filtering experts in an attempt to persuade us to testify
>on behalf of the government's case for COPA.  See:
>The article notes that I was "reportedly" contacted; the USDOJ did
>call me by phone and followed up with a package of material, but my
>guess is that after they read my expert reports for the Mainstream
>Loudoun case, they realized I wasn't their gal.  I may be critical of
>filters, but I'm even more critical of attempts to tighten a noose
>around the First Amendment.
>The idea that anyone under 17 could not legally access a wide variety
>of material scares the dickens out of me--I can't wait to see what
>"contemporary community standards" would boil down to.  As for
>authors--well, I've always thought Stephen King lacked artistic
>value; I've heard that kids like his books, too... so let's take away
>his Rocketbook and throw him in the pokey!
>Between COPA and UCITA, we're rapidly approaching Fahrenheit 451...
>Karen G. Schneider kgs@bluehighways.com
>Assistant Director of Technology
>Shenendehowa Public Library, Clifton Park, NY


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