The Kaiser Family Foundation Study on How Filtering Affects Access

Document Sample
The Kaiser Family Foundation Study on How Filtering Affects Access Powered By Docstoc
					     The Kaiser Family Foundation Study on How
     Filtering Affects Access to Health Information
     by Nancy Willard, Center for Advanced Technology in Education

                n December 10th, 2002, the Kaiser Family            Highlights of the Study.

     O          Foundation issued a new study, See No Evil:

                How Internet Filters Affect the Search for

     Online Information. This study is available on their
                                                                    Under conditions simulating intentional access, one in
                                                                    ten (1 in 10) sites containing pornography were accessi-
                                                                    ble. This failure rate was consistent across the blocking
                                                                    configurations (Least—87%; Intermediate—90%; Most—
                                                                    91%). Under conditions simulating accidental access, the
     site at <>.
                                                                    filters allowed access to pornography 38% of the times—
         Kaiser researchers studied the issue of youth access to
                                                                    one in three (1 in 3) times.
     health information when filtering software has been                Kaiser found across all of the health information that
                                                                    filters set at the least restrictive level blocked only 1.4%
     installed. Kaiser studied the six leading filtering products
                                                                    of the health information sites. They blocked only 5% of
     that are used in United States public schools, Smart
                                                                    such sites at the intermediate level. However, filters
     Filter, 8e6, Websense, CyberPatrol, Symantec, and              blocked 24% of such sites at the most restrictive level.
                                                                        A closer analysis of the data reveals blocking patterns
     N2H2, along with AOL Parental Controls.
                                                                    that present significantly greater concerns. In those cate-
         They assessed the ability to access sites containing
                                                                    gories where the subject area is controversial or the sites
12   health information across a broad range of topics, includ-     themselves may contain controversial information, the
                                                                    rate of overblocking was significantly higher. The cate -
     ing health topics unrelated to sex, health topics that
                                                                    gories that stood out included safe sex, homosexuality,
     relate to sexual body parts, health topics related to sex,
                                                                    and drugs. At the intermediate restriction configuration,
     and sites presenting potentially controversial health          typical of most school settings, the filters blocked one in
                                                                    four (1 in 4) of the health information sites in these sub-
                                                                    ject areas.
         The six filters used in public schools were set at three
                                                                        The Kaiser study demonstrates the reasons why it is
     different configurations: least restrictive—blocking only      both unwise and inappropriate to place reliance on filter-
                                                                    ing software to protect young people when they are using
     the pornography–related category or categories; interme-
                                                                    the Internet.
     diate restrictive—blocking those categories that are most

     likely to be considered inappropriate; and most restrictive

     —blocking all categories conceivable in a library or
                                                                    The Danger of False Security and Complacency
                                                                    Filtering companies and their conservative pro–filtering
     school setting. Most public schools have configured their
                                                                    allies promise that filtering will protect young people on
     filtering systems at or above the intermediate restrictive     the Internet. This misrepresentation creates a dangerous
                                                                    level of false security and complacency. It is dangerous to
                                                                    believe that we can protect young people by establishing
         Kaiser researchers also tested the system’s ability to     electronically fenced playpens. The snakes can still get in
     block access to pornography under conditions simulating        and teens can easily get out. Filtering software is not
     intentional access and accidental access. To assess acci-      infallible, it does not protect against all concerns and it is
     dental access, they attempted to access the pornography        not, and will never be, present on all computers that our
     sites that appeared in the search results when they were       young people will access. Filters are not the solution.
     seeking appropriate health information.                        They will never be the solution.
    This study clearly demonstrates the concerns about             How many school districts are relying on filtering
placing reliance on filtering software. In conditions simu-    software, but not teaching students about safe and
lating intentional access, the filters failed to work 10% of   responsible use?
the time—one out of ten (1 in 10) sites. Consider that it
would take a curious teen or a staff member at an unsu-
pervised computer a mere two minutes to check out ten
                                                               Blocking of Sites Containing Controversial Information
blocked sites to find the one that is unblocked. United        or Related to Controversial Subjects
States public schools are spending billions of dollars for     The Kaiser study also demonstrates why it is inappropri-
approximately two minutes of protection.                       ate, under First Amendment standards of access to infor-
    Many educators think that filters are protecting stu-      mation, for filtering to be used in schools.
dents and therefore it is acceptable to allow unsupervised         The leading case in this area is the case of Pico v.
use. In many schools, the blocked URL reports are not          Island Trees Board of Education. In this case school board
reviewed on a regular basis. Under such circumstances, it      members received a list of “objectionable books” from a
would not take long for students or staff members to           conservative parent organization and sought to remove
determine that intentional attempts to access pornogra-        those books from their school library. The leading deci-
phy will go undetected and unpunished.                         sion stated the constitutional standard clearly, “School
    Of even more concern is the data resulting from con-       boards may not remove books from school libraries sim-         13
ditions simulating inadvertent access. Under these condi-      ply because they dislike the ideas contained in those
tions, the filter failed to block access 38% of the time.      books.” The Kaiser study has very effectively demonstrat-
Filtering companies want us to believe that by installing      ed that there is intentional or inadvertent blocking of
filters we will protect Suzie while she is innocently          potentially controversial information or information
searching for information on kitties. Assuming this data       related to controversial subjects.
is correct, one out of three times (1 in 3) Suzie makes a          At the configuration most likely to be considered
mistake, she will end up at a pornographic site.               necessary to protect students from inappropriate material
    If Suzie is a young child, then we simply must do a        on the Internet—the intermediate restriction configura-
better job of protecting Suzie by keeping her in places        tion—filters are blocking approximately one of every four
that are truly safe and by closely supervising all Internet    (1 in 4) sites in areas where there is the potential of con-
use. As Suzie approaches her teen years, it is time to teach   troversy. This is so even though those blocked sites were
her how to avoid accidentally accessing the wrong kinds        identified by the researchers as containing health infor-
of sites; what to do if she has gotten to a wrong site,        mation. This pattern is evident in the controversial sexu-
especially if she has been ensnared; how to recognize and      al-related categories of “safe sex,” “condoms,” “gay,” and
deal with harassers, perverts, and predators; and her          “lesbian.”
responsibilities as a cybercitizen.                                The pattern is also evident in the category addressing
    When people believe in the false promises of the fil-      the illicit drug “ecstasy.” The illegal drug filtering cate-
tering companies, they frequently fail to engage in the        gories were not blocked at the least restrictive configura-
education and supervision necessary to truly protect           tion but were at the intermediate configuration. One in
young people on the Internet. Case in point—the                four (1 in 4) health sites addressing ecstasy were blocked
Children’s Internet Protection Act contains extensive          at the intermediate configuration.
requirements related to the use of technology protection
measures—but it does not mention Internet safety educa-        Health Information Sites Blocked
tion even once.                                                This pattern of intentional or accidental blocking of
     potentially controversial information is a matter of high       sion-making process, and the blocked list itself. Little to
     concern. Consider what other issues might also be subject       no information is available about the executives or
     to this pattern, including, most specifically, sites that       investors whose interests and values may be influencing
     present politically controversial information. These sites      the blocking criteria and decision-making. Most of these
     could easily be blocked in some of the categories selected      companies are also serving or pursuing a variety of cus-
     at the intermediate configuration level, such as intoler-       tomers—including conservative religious Internet service
     ance, anarchy, or extremist.                                    providers and repressive third world countries—whose
                                                                     interests may be impacting the blocking criteria and deci-
     Far Removed from Accountability                                 sion–making.
     The Kaiser Family Foundation did not address the issue of           There is absolutely no public disclosure. Therefore,
     lack of public accountability directly. But the fact that the   these companies are far removed from accountability for
     foundation found it necessary to conduct this study rais-       their actions. There is also now strong evidence of signifi-
     es concerns about the overall lack of public information        cant intentional or accidental blocking of sites that pres-
     pertaining to how filtering decisions are made.                 ent controversial information or address controversial
         What the dissent in Pico said was also instructive          subjects. We have no knowledge on how or why this
     with respect to the use of filtering by public institutions.    overblocking is occurring.
14   The dissent said:                                                   The filtering companies will suggest that the ability
                                                                     to override the filter provides the necessary local control.
         “We can all agree that as a matter of educational           If the companies were merely making a few mistakes in
         policy students should have wide access to infor-           their blocking, this might be a reasonable cure. But these
         mation and ideas. But the people elect school               companies are engaging in significant overblocking of
         boards, who in turn select administrators, who              potentially controversial information.
         select teachers, and these are the individuals best             When a site is blocked, the user has no insight as to
         able to determine the substance of that policy.             whether this is a good or bad site, so there is a reluctance
         …. A school board is not a giant bureaucracy far            to request for an override, especially if the subject matter
         removed from accountability for its actions.”               is controversial. The override process is generally untime-
                                                                     ly and too burdensome. Students desiring access to
         When school officials implement the use of filtering,       potentially controversial information are reluctant to
     they have abdicated control over what materials students        request that the filter be overridden. Overriding is simply
     may or may not access to private companies that are far         not an adequate cure. Under these conditions, how can it
     removed from accountability for their actions. The illuso-      be considered constitutional for these products to be used
     ry level of control that can be exercised at the local level    in public institutions?
     is the selection of categories—a selection based on a one
     sentence description of what is blocked in that category,       Comprehensive Education and Supervision Approach
     with some examples but without an accurate description          To truly protect young people on the Internet, we need to
     of the criteria for blocking within the category.               embrace a comprehensive approach that keeps younger
         Beyond the one sentence description, the filtering          children in very safe places, and that provides older chil-
     companies protect all further information about how and         dren with education and continued adult involvement to
     what they are blocking as confidential trade secret infor-      impart the knowledge, skills, motivation, and values to
     mation. This includes all blocking criteria, key words that     use the Internet in a safe and responsible manner.
     are used to identify the sites, information about the deci-         In schools, this can be done within the context of
the Children’s Internet Protection Act, by using alterna-     About the Author: Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D. has testified
tive technologies, such as those described in the National    before the Children’s Online Protection Act Commission
Research Council’s new study, Youth, Pornography              and the National Research Council committee studying
and the Internet.                                             Internet pornography on educational strategies to address
    While there is a role for technologies to play in pro-    the concerns of youth access to sexually explicit material.
tection and monitoring, we cannot continue to rely on         She is the author of Computer Ethics, Etiquette, and
technological quick fixes as surrogates for the more          Safety for the 21st Century Student, published by the
important responsibilities of education and continued         International Society for Technology in Education, and
adult involvement. We simply must focus our efforts on        Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet: A Guide
helping young people develop effective filtering and          for Educators which is available through the
blocking systems that will reside in the hardware that sits   Responsible Netizen Institute web site <responsible-
upon their shoulders.                               >.