House Committee Report on Pornography and File-Sharing Confirms ACLU Concerns With Net Blocking Software

July 27, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union pointed to a House Committee report released today on the availability of pornography on Internet file-sharing software as confirmation of its concerns that the unreliability of blocking software can lead to infringements on free speech.

“The report, by detailing how simple it is to obtain hard-core and violent pornography on the web, shows just how important it is for parents to be involved in their child’s surfing habits,” said Marvin Johnson, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “It also shows the futility in government attempts to censor Internet access through legislation.”

The report, prepared for the House Committee on Government Reform at the request of Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Steve Largent (R-OK), presents the findings of the Minority Staff’s Special Investigation Division into the ease of obtaining pornography on file-sharing software such as Limewire, Aimster and iMesh. Such software has had its popularity skyrocket with the demise of Napster.

Included in the report is a section on the utility of commercial blocking software in preventing access to objectionable content over these “peer-to-peer” connections. The investigators found that only one popular commercial program completely blocked access to file-sharing programs under its default setting. This further reinforces the reality, the ACLU said, that parents must be the ultimate arbiter of what a child is exposed to on the Net and must not be lulled into a false sense of security by hollow promises of blocking software companies.

Legislation passed by Congress mandating the installation of blocking software in libraries have been challenged by the ACLU on First Amendment grounds. Most commercial blocking packages use keywords to recognize objectionable websites; however, they cannot recognize explicit graphics and often censor non-objectionable and constitutionally protected on-line speech.

“As the ACLU has proven in numerous lawsuits, legislative attempts to block objectionable material on-line are invariably ineffective and inevitably result in censorship for adults,” Johnson said.

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