Students, Educators and Activists Speak Out Against Federally Mandated Blocking Software in Schools

September 18, 2002 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


NEW YORK — Students, parents, educators and free speech advocates across the country spoke out today against the federal mandate for Internet blocking software on school computers that went into effect at the beginning of this school year.

School communities and free speech advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Youth Free Expression Network (YFEN) are urging the repeal of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires public schools and libraries receiving certain federal funds or Internet service discounts to install Internet filters.

“In one of the more massive giveaways to private industry in recent memory, CIPA requires thousands of schools and libraries to buy expensive filtering software,” said Marjorie Heins, Director of the Free Expression Policy Project. “It also turns over educational decisions about what students should read and learn to these private companies, which will not even reveal their lists of blocked sites.”

Students across the nation have written letters protesting the censorship requirement to their school boards and Congressional representatives, as part of a campaign initiated by YFEN. Among the problems that students cited in their letters is the “digital divide” that filters have created in their classrooms.

“More affluent students will have the privilege of ditching the newly censored school computers for their less restricted ones at home, while the less fortunate will likely be stuck in a frustrating and quite discriminatory situation,” said Jess Pinkham, a senior at Stuyvesant High School. “This is a blatant violation of one of the initial intentions of the Internet, to provide accessible information to everyone.”

John Elfrank-Dana, a social studies teacher at New York City’s Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers in lower Manhattan, has had to deal with the frustration of being unable to assign research topics such as terrorism because the subjects are blocked by the software filters on school computers.

“Internet filtering in schools disproportionately impacts those schools that most need federal funds and discounts, while providing the fewest options for lower-income public school students who cannot find alternative access at home or at an unfiltered well-equipped local public library or private school,” said Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Coordinator of YFEN.

In May, a federal district court struck down the library provisions of CIPA because it found that filters massively overblock valuable web content, violating the First Amendment rights of library patrons. The government has appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not yet indicated whether it will review the ruling.

While the schools portion of the law remains in force, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are asking school boards to block as little as possible within the bounds of the law. The groups are also urging Congress to repeal the censorship provisions of the law.

Other groups participating in today’s events are the Online Policy Group, the National Coalition Against Censorship and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

About the participants:

The American Civil Liberties Union is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of 300,000 members and supporters dedicated to defending and preserving the Bill of Rights for all individuals through litigation, legislation and public education.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading civil liberties organization working to protect rights in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF actively encourages and challenges industry and government to support free expression and privacy online. EFF is a member-supported organization and maintains one of the most-linked-to websites in the world.

The National Coalition Against Censorship is an alliance of over 40 national non-profit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups. NCAC strives to create a climate of opinion hospitable to First Amendment freedoms in the broader community.

The New York Civil Liberties Union is a statewide organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of New Yorkers’ civil liberties as enumerated in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York.

The Online Policy Group is a nonprofit organization dedicated to online policy research, outreach, and action on issues such as access, privacy, digital defamation, and the digital divide.

The Youth Free Expression Network is a national coalition of teens and adults committed to preserving the free expression rights of young people. It is a program of the Free Expression Policy Project, a think-tank on artistic and intellectual freedom.

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The latest in Privacy & Technology

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Privacy & Technology

Privacy and Technology issue image

The ACLU works to expand the right to privacy, increase the control individuals have over their personal information, and ensure civil liberties are enhanced rather than compromised by technological innovation.