The Problem with Internet Filtering

I’m finding this puzzling.
The Government has decided that the best thing they can do “for the children” is attempt to force the use of an Internet Filter in schools and public libraries by withholding grants and discounts unless a library or school implements a software or hardware filtering solution.

In order to get grants and discounts on Internet access, we MUST install these obscenely expensive filters because… it protects children?

Allow me to debunk your junk “facts”…

1. Filters cannot tell what is obscene and what is not.
FACT: there is no computer, no server, no software in existance that knows the difference between what is obscene and what is not. Filters rely completely on “blacklists” for the majority of their functionality. These blacklists must be obtained by people, because after all, there’s no way to automate this. If you automated it, everything or nothing is obscene, or it relies on inaccurate algorithms… Until Artificial Intelligence is created, specifically one capable of comprehend the nature of obscenity… there’s no hope of this ever happening. If obscenity (verbal, written, visual, video, etc) is definable by an algorithm… that would truly be an amazing accomplishment of science.

2. Filters block access to LEGALLY OBSCENE MATERIAL.
FACT: This is completely false. Filters block access to LEGALLY OBSCENE MATERIAL only if you’re kind enough to access it directly. If you’re wise enough to know how to use unlisted proxy servers and other methods, you’ll float through almost any Internet filter in existence. Why? BECAUSE COMPUTERS DON’T KNOW WHAT OBSCENITY IS! The fact is, bypassing filters is child play. A small amount of knowledge, and nearly every establish filter in use can be bypassed with little effort.

3. FACT: Parents obtain a false sense of security. Parents believe “my child is protected because the library/school has a filter”. This is completely, totally and utterly false. A filter does NOT prevent access to LEGALLY OBSCENE MATERIALS. A filter only makes gaining access to LEGALLY OBSCENE MATERIALS on premises “slightly more difficult”.

Think of it like this… There’s an single entry way to a library. There’s a guard at the door. The guard will only let people wearing a BLUE SWEATER in or out of the building. A pedophile sees this, but he’s wearing a GREEN SWEATER. So the pedophile goes back to his car, grabs a BLUE SWEATER… and walks right in.

The guard is only looking at the color of a sweater. That’s all the guard understands. BLUE = GOOD. ANYTHING ELSE is BAD. The guard is incapable of logic to determine that the guy in a BLUE sweater doesn’t belong. The guard can’t remember faces, and it can’t tell the difference in size. The guard has no logical processing capability, and if he does, it’s limited to knowing exactly WHAT shade of blue is acceptable.

The GUARD in the above scenario is your average Internet filter. Did you feel safe because there’s a guard at the door? Probably. Did you know the Guard is only slightly more effective than a door knob? No, but that’s the case.

So why does the government require the purchase of obscenely expensive software or hardware solution that doesn’t serve the sole reason for it’s existence? The common argument given is “for the children”! The truth is, all it does is create an government supported group of businesses, that otherwise would not survive because their products are flawed to start with.

Yes, that’s what the children need… their parents to have a false sense of security, lowering their guard, which allows the average Pedobear/Pervonaut easy access to their children…

The real answer is education. The reason answer is to fix the SOCIAL ISSUE itself. You cannot fix SOCIAL ILLS WITH TECHNOLOGY. It just DOESN’T WORK. Any attempt to solve a social issue with the application of technology is doomed to failure. The real answer is that it takes a village to raise a child. We’re all responsible for the safety of our children… and not a one of us will put the safety of our children in the hands of a guard who can only assume that Blue is bad, but everything else may pass.

The REAL issue is that there are morons who believe there’s nothing wrong with viewing hardcore pornography in the middle of a public library with tens of underage kids running around. The issue is that kids are looking for dirty pictures (but this is the normal part). The issue is SOCIAL (perhaps psychological). This is NOT a technology issue. Efforts should be put forth to dissuade people from this behavior. Education for how to safely and properly use the Internet should be started as soon as the children can type. Parents need to be educated to know what’s out there, what’s waiting, and how to spot problems.

My opinion: the only reasonably successful way to meet the requirement of the CiPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), which is used as part of the wording for eRate (USF) funding requirements is to MONITOR access with human beings. A proper policy must also be written, stating such access violates all code of conduct rules, and any violation of the policy results in immediate loss of privilege and/or ejection.

As a human being, I can tell you what is obscene and what is not. When I see it, I know it. Will I be completely accurate? No, I won’t, because what is obscene is defined by a measurement of community mores and personal morals. Will I sit there like an Overlord and watch what everyone accesses? No, of course not. Will I toss your ass out if I find you looking at hardcore bestiality on a public Internet computer? You bet your pathetic ass I will and I’ll ban you from coming back. And that I will do for the children (and common decency).

A Library is a public institution. It’s not a right. It’s a privilege, and part of that privilege is being a responsible citizen… that means knowing our children don’t need to be exposed to your perverse inclinations. Even if we provide a “separate” adult internet area, that doesn’t mean its an open license to search for hardcore pornography.

Now, personal disclaimer:
Personally, I do not have negative issues with pornography (except Child Porn, which is legally and morally perverse, and should be prosecuted appropriately EVERY TIME). A responsible adult, in the safety of their own home, has the legal right to access and peruse such materials… but they have no such legal right to access of such materials in a public location.

I’m not selling a personal agenda here. I’m summarizing from the view of a person who’s job includes the duty to run and monitor public internet computers. The above reflects my experience in dealing with the public, and the “technological measures” that have been required by the government to obtain funding. The general purpose is to demonstrate both the failure of Internet Filtering, and the fallacy of requiring the application of such a poorly executed service as a requirement for obtaining funding. These are my own personal views, and do not reflect the views of my employer(s).

Back Stories (these are just memories of filtering):
Back in the day on multi-line BBS’s, they implemented “swear” filters, to keep things clean. These swear filters were the first attempt at filtering electronic communications I’m aware of. They would prevent you from saying any of the classic list of “seven dirty words”, amongst others… but were incapable of filtering creative spelling of swear words.

All the phone slang, etc you see today sprang out of that movement. The swear filters would block the word “shit”, but not the word “sh!t”. The swear filters would oftentimes block completely innocent words like “pocketwatch”, leaving you having to look through the word to determine the secret swear word within… which is really more obscene than the swear word itself.

Interesting way of getting swear words, even by human filters: turn the word into a new word. Best example of that is Battlestar Galactica on Syfy. In order to keep the characters appearing human (because we all swear), they introduced the word “frak”. Frak is clearly just a typo of “fuck”. So the characters are randomly exclaiming about “frakking” this and “frakking” that.. they’re swearing on the air. But that’s okay, because the censors have been tricked into thinking the word means something else entirely… yet everyone with half a brain knows that they’re saying “fucking” this and “fucking” that.

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