Web-Filter Company Acts to Address ACLU Complaints of LGBT Censorship in Montgomery County
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TAKOMA PARK – Phantom Technologies, which produces the “iBoss” software used for website filtering in Montgomery County government offices, confirmed today that it has updated its software to prevent websites with content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities from being improperly blocked as “adult.” The company made the announcement in response to an October 24 letter sent by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland (ACLU-MD) and the national ACLU as part of the organization’s “Don’t Filter Me” Project. A Montgomery County-based reporter learned his newspaper’s site was blocked on county computers, and contacted the ACLU-MD for help.
“The ACLU is glad that iBoss has moved quickly to bring its software into line with Montgomery County government’s values of non-discrimination and free speech,” said Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland. “It is vital for web filtering companies to take this problem seriously, especially when working with government agencies and schools that are covered by state or local nondiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In October, ACLU-MD received a complaint that Montgomery County, which uses iBoss filtering software on all of its government computers, was improperly blocking access to a wide variety of LGBT-related websites by falsely labeling them as pornography. The county promptly sought to rectify this problem, by unblocking specific sites that were called to its attention as being improperly blocked. According to press reports, iBoss also took steps to update its software to make the filtering less aggressive.
But the ACLU contacted iBoss after those adjustments had been made, because several innocuous LGBT-related websites continued to be blocked, including:
• Evangelicals Concerned (ecwr.org),
• Families Like Ours (familieslikeours.org),
• Freedom to Marry (freedomtomarry.org),
• Lesbian Health & Research Center (lesbianhealthinfo.org),
• Marriage Equality USA (marriageequality.org),
• Pride At Work Action Center (prideatwork.org), and
• Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (sldn.org).
In a press release today, Phantom Technologies acknowledged that these sites had been improperly flagged by its iBoss web-filtering system as “adult” and announced that it would make additional changes. According to the release, “Following a letter from the ACLU listing other LGBT sites that were still blocked, the algorithm was further adjusted and other variables were added to reduce future mistakes. Phantom Technologies then took the extra step of adding a reporting mechanism on its website so customers can submit misclassified LGBT sites directly for instant re-categorization across its entire end user base.”
“Phantom Technologies should be commended for reaffirming its commitment to providing users with viewpoint-neutral access to the Internet,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney at the national ACLU LGBT Project. “Governmental entities that purchase filtering software – and the customers they serve – are looking for a program that blocks pornographic or sexually explicit content without improperly censoring access to LGBT-related websites. Proactively addressing this problem isn’t just the right thing to do – it is also a matter of basic customer service.”
More information on the ACLU’s work on LGBT website filtering in schools and government can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/dont-filter-me-web-content-filtering-schools
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