Topics Covered in this essay:
||Internet censorship software:
Microsystems Software, Inc. of Framingham, MA, produces the Cyber Patrol
computer program. It can be installed on your home computer to limit access to Internet
web sites which would be unsuitable for children. The program is used by: Acer, America
Online, Ameritech, ANS, ASCII, ASG, AT&T (WorldNet Service), Aventail, Bell Atlantic,
British Telecom, Check Point Software, Continental Cablevision, CompuServe, CTI, Graphix
Zone, GTE, IBM, Prodigy, Raptor & Netegrity, Scholastic Network, Telecom New
Zealand, and probably many other ISPs.
According to their home page:
"Sites to be blocked are selected by a team of parents and teachers hired by
Microsystems to surf the Web using state-of-the-art technology to find sexually explicit,
violent or hateful material."
They maintain a list of banned sites including those which promote drugs (alcohol,
tobacco, other drugs), supply militant-terrorist information, information on sex,
pornography, nudity or violence. They also prevent surfing of:
||intolerant sites which advocate "prejudice or discrimination against any race,
color, national origin, religion, disability or handicap, gender, or sexual
Because of this policy, Cyber Patrol blocks the American Family Association
web site. That site is perceived by Cyber Patrol as promoting discrimination of gays and
lesbians. On 1998-JUN-11, the AFA appealed to the CyberNOT Oversight Committee to
have the block lifted. Their request was refused. The AFA complained that "Cyber Patrol
is blocking AFA.net because we oppose the political and cultural agenda of the homosexual
rights movement. The AFA has never condoned violence, persecution or harassment; nor do we
advocate that homosexuals be denied the same rights of all citizens. However, we do oppose
and expose efforts to equate race, ethnic origin and religion with the practice of
same-sex sexual behaviors for purposes of special civil rights laws."
Cyber Patrol also blocks:
||Satanic sites which advocate devil worship, an affinity for evil, or wickedness.
||Cults, which they define as: "A closed society that is headed by a single
individual where loyalty is demanded and leaving is punishable."
There is a widespread belief among many conservative Christians that some cults do
harass and persecute persons who have left the group. Sometimes, these cults are believed
to go as far as killing a person who tries to leave. This is sometimes alleged against Satanist grottos, Wiccan covens, and
other groups. But this belief appear to be a hoax. We are aware of many mind control cults, and a few doomsday,
destructive cults. Many new religious movements withdraw all emotional, spiritual, and
social support from members who leave. But cults that actually punish persons who leave
the group are extremely rare. And we have only heard of two groups that may have killed
departing members. One was a splinter Mormon group that had been excommunicated from the
Mormon organization. The other was a Roman Catholic splinter group in Uganda.
Many parents buy Cyber Patrol to regulate their children's access
to the Internet. However, some cities are now mandating that this software be put on
library and public school computers. This conflicts with the free speech guarantees in the
Among the most famous attempts at censorship in this century were the book burnings by
the German Nazi Party and the lists of forbidden books and movies prepared by the Roman
Catholic Church. However, the Nazis and Vatican at least published lists of blacklisted
books. Cyber Patrol does not publish a complete list of banned sites. However, if you want
to check your favorite URLs, you can find out if they are banned by accessing their site,
one at a time, at http://www.microsys.com/cybernot/default.htm
Our site was banned for a while. Cyber Patrol had felt that one of our 450 or so essays
could be disturbing to children. It described ritual abuse testimony in a German court -
testimony of events that probably never happened.
Nobody outside of Cyber Patrol has a full list of sites on the "CyberNOT" list. A
partial list is being maintained at "PeaceFire", the Teen Net anti-censorship
Alliance, at: http://www.Peacefire.org/
This is a similar program, which is the property of Solid
Oak Software ™. 1 They claim to block only those
sites which "focuses on topics such as adult or sexual issues, illegal
activities, bigotry, racism, drugs, or pornography" are included in the
list." 2 However, their behavior appears to differ significantly
from their claims. Allegedly, they:
||Block sites for reasons that cover a much wider range that their policy indicates.
||Have requested that an Internet Service Provider remove the Peacefire Site, an
anti-censorship organization which is critical of CYBERsitter.
||Have threatened to block all of the WWW sites at an Internet Service Provider
because of an individual site or essay that they don't like
||Threatened to sue two journalists, Brock Meeks and Declan McCullagh, for an article
which claims that the company has a political agenda in addition to its stated policy of
blocking sexually oriented sites. CYBERsitter never followed through with the threat.
||Offer no appeal process for sites that they block
||Scan web pages, newsgroup messages, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels for banned
phrases. "Gay" is allowed, but "gay rights", "gay community"
or "lesbian" are not. "Sex" is OK, but "sexual", "safe
sex", "have sex" are not OK. "Naughty", "violence" and
"fairy" are banned.
||Prohibit access to locations (such as this site) which include the words:
"witch", "Wicca", "Wiccan", "Pagan",
"witchcraft" "Jehovah's Witnesses", "Shaman",
"Hare Krishna", "Brethren". The latter effectively blocks over 90 different Lutheran and Mennonite sites.
Solid Oak Software Inc. does not make public its list of blocked sites. Webmasters have
no way of knowing whether their sites have been banned
In addition to blocking sites that they have reviewed and dislike, Cybersitter has an
additional feature: the user of the program can select the "occult
/ cult" option. When selected, any individual essay with the
word(s) Pagan, Witch etc. in its URL will be totally blocked from view. This applies to
all types of sites:
||Those that promote Paganism, Neopaganism etc., and
||Those that merely describe Neopagan religions, such as our essays on Wicca,
Also, in the text of any essay, these same words are blocked out; the rest of the text
They claim to have no ties to any religious organizations. However, one investigator
claims to have evidence that they are linked to Focus on the Family, a very large
and influential group within the Christian religious right. Their use of the terms
"occult" and "cult" would seem to verify this. Isaac
well known and respected Neopagan claims that CYBERsitter "actively discriminates
against and blocks all access to websites that offend the Religious Right, as well as
newsgroups, IRC, and other internet resources, without allowing parents or librarians to
even see, let alone edit, their keyword filters."
Declan McCullagy of of Netly News commented: "The 'smut blockers'
grab power by playing to porn, then they wield it to advance a right-wing,
conservative agenda. Family values activists would never have been able to pass
a law that blocks as many sites as CyberSitter does. Besides censoring
alt.censorship, it also blocks dozens of ISPs and university sites such as
well.com, zoom.com, anon.penet.fi, best.com, webpower.com, ftp.std.com, cts.com,
gwis2.seas.gwu.edu, hss.cmu.edu, c2.org, echonyc.com and accounting.com. Now,
sadly, some libraries are using it. Solid Oak claims 900,000 registered users."
BESS Filtering Services are largely aimed at protecting school children by preventing
their access to undesirable sites. They state that over 3 million school children are
protected, and that in an average school district which has 50,000 site requests per day,
that Bess blocks about 2 requests per minute. Their filters reside on N2H2 servers. Their
systems are attractive to school administrators, because there is no local software to
update and maintain. They also provide filtered and unfiltered Internet service to most of
western Washington state. Their software is also sold to libraries, businesses, and
Internet service providers.
Bess uses "a team of dedicated professionals that reviews each site"
individually. The type of objectionable material that they block includes:
||Nudity: pictures of naked people
||Adult Content: any adult oriented site
||Sex: descriptions of sexual acts or erotic material
||Violence: graphically violent acts
||Illegal Drugs: sites that encourage the use of any recreational drugs
(including tobacco and alcohol)
||Discrimination: Sites that advocate discrimination on the basis of
race, religion, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation
||Chat Sites: All on-line chat facilities are regarded as dangerous to
children and are blocked
||High Risk: A site falls into this category if they have a "lack
of editorial control which then may fall into one of the other blockable categories."
This presumably refers to unmoderated mailing lists and newsgroups.
We have been contacted by a high school student in Ohio who reports that "Bess
who is in league with the Christian Coalition and the Center for Family Values, deemed it
necessary to block" our essay on the Wiccan religion. We
have no independent verification of these assertions at this time.
We asked Bess for confirmation, the reason why our essay is blocked, and a list of
other of our essays which have been also blocked. We received a response two days
later. They removed the block on our Wiccan essay. They scanned their data base and found
that they had also blocked our essay on Satanic Ritual Abuse. We
suspect that they blocked the latter essay on the basis of its title. The text of the
essay explains that "SRA" is a hoax. One source indicates that 18% of
Bess' revenue comes from banner ads that they feature in place of blocked sites.
When a young person at a school or library attempts to access a blocked site,
they are exposed to a commercial advertisement.
This is a Canadian site operated by International Internet Alliance ™, 60 Baker
Street, Guelph, Ontario
N1H 4G1 Canada. They claim that they filter "pornography and other offensive
material." They bill themselves as "The world's fastest technology
brings you an Internet service that you can enjoy without the worry of offensive material
entering your home or office."
Unfortunately, they do not specify on their Web site what criteria they use to decide
that a site is pornographic or offensive. Some of their sales personnel have stated that
they do not have human reviewers, but rely upon computer programs to look for key,
offensive words. Thus, a site which recommends abstinence from illegal drugs might be
banned because they use the words "drugs" or "cocaine."
They use rather primitive blocking software. Apparently it is only capable of blocking
at the site level. So, if any one of our 1,918 essays and menus were to be deemed offensive, our
entire site would be blocked.
Our entire site was in fact banned, as of 1998-FEB. We found this out by accident
while visiting Cleannet's booth at a computer show in Toronto ON. We sent several
Emails requesting that our site be removed from their banned list, or at least that it be
reviewed by a human. After two weeks of waiting, no meaningful replies were received. Immediately
after we sent an Email to a Guelph newspaper suggesting that they feature an article on
this company, Netclean responded. They unblocked our site.
Like other Internet censorship companies, they do not inform Webmasters of their
decision to ban a site. They do not offer any on-line service whereby a Webmaster can
determine if their site has been blocked.
We have been informed that this company ceased operations on 1998-JUN-25.
This package contains a Guard Dog program which filters dangerous,
pornographic, criminal and other Internet web sites. It contains a data base of
words which it uses to compare against the text and Meta tags of web sites. It
prevents viewing of web sites containing any of the following words: athame, Atlantis,
book of shadows, Druid, magick, Neo-pagan, New Age,
occult, pagan, pentagram,
Wicca, etc. It appears to discriminate heavily against
Neopagan web sites.
American Family Filter (AFF):
This company offers a Family Filter Service 4 which
"offers a clean, objectionable free environment for your home." It prevents access to those web sites that AFF considers objectionable. 5
These include sites that discuss or display:
||The recreational use of alcohol,
||The Goth culture
||Dating or introduction services
||Body piercing, or
And sites that include:
||Unmoderated chat services,
||Gambling opportunities, or
||targeting of "...a group of people based on race, gender, religion,
culture in a hateful or derogatory manner."
According to their filtering criteria, they do not appear to ban sites
that target groups of people based on their sexual orientation in a "hateful
or derogatory manner." Their filtering does not seem to be particularly
effective. After signing up for a free trial, we found that the service did
not block our site's essays on same-sex marriage,
and the Goth culture. However, they did block our
essay on religious responses to masturbation,
even though it is image-free and consists mainly of quotations from
conservative Christian sources. We have asked them to remove the blockage.