The V-Chip Debate: Content Filtering from Television to the Internet

By Monroe E. Price | Go to book overview

things these adults read and see. Sites may be stripped out of the filtered universe because of deliberate political choices on the part of rating service administrators, and because of inaccuracies inherent in the ratings process. If a rating service is to categorize a large number of sites, it cannot simultaneously achieve consistency and nuance; the techniques it must rely on to achieve consistency make it more difficult to capture nuance and make it less likely that users will find the ratings useful. The necessity of excluding unrated sites may flatten speech on the Net, disproportionately excluding speech that was not created by commercial providers for a mass audience.

This is not to say that ratings are bad. The cost they impose, in return for the comforting feeling that we can avert a threat to our children, is surely much less than that imposed by the Communications Decency Act. Ratings provide an impressive second-best solution. We should not fool ourselves, though, into thinking that they impose no cost at all.


Notes
*
I am grateful to Jessica Litman, whose comments greatly improved this article. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 1996 Telecommunications Policy Research Conference; I am indebted to the participants in that conference, in particular Paul Resnick and Rivkah Sass, for their perspectives. This article attempts to take a snapshot of an extraordinarily fast-moving field; it reflects developments through the spring of 1997.
1.
117 S. Ct. 2329( 1997).
2.
See Brief of Appellees at Partll.B.2, Reno v. ACLU, 117 S. Ct. 2329 ( 1997), .
3.
The White House Office of the Press Secretary, Statement by the President ( June 12, 1996) .
4.
Peter H. Lewis, "Microsoft Backs Ratings System for Internet", N. Y. TIMES, Mar.1, 1996, at D5 (quoting Daniel Weitzner, Deputy Director, Center for Democracy and Technology); see Jerry Berman & Daniel J. Weitzner , "Abundance and User Control: Renewing the Democratic Heart of the First Amendment in the Age of Interactive Media", 104 YALE L.J.1619,1634-35( 1995).
5.
Antipornography activists, by contrast, have been decidedly less enthusiastic. Some express concern that such software leaves "the parent . . . responsible to go out and buy the software, become educated about how to apply it, how to install it, how to use it, and how to then monitor it to make sure your child or his friends have not gotten around it." Pornography on the Internet: Straight Talk from the 2 Family Research Council (radio broadcast transcript) (last modified July 3, 1996) (statement of Colby May, Senior Counsel, American Center for Law and Justice). To say that blocking software obviates the need for government speech restrictions is "saying . . . that we are free to pollute out cultural environment, and parents have to buy the gas masks." Id. (Statement of Kristi Hamrick, moderator).
6.
See Paul Resnick & James Miller, "PICS: Internet Access Controls Without Censorship", 39 COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM89 ( 1996). PICS was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, the body responsible for developing common protocols and reference codes for the evolution of the Web, with the participation of Apple, America Online, AT&T, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Compuserve, DEC, IBM, MCI, the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, Microsoft, Netscape, Prodigy, the Recreational Software Advisory Council, SafeSurf, SurfWatch, Time Warner Pathfinder, and others.
7.
Microsoft calls its World Wide Web browser Internet Explorer; Content Advisor first appeared in Internet Explorer's version 3.0. Content Advisor makes it easiest to use RSACi ratings. RSACi is an Internet ratings system established by the Recreational Software Advisory Council(RSAC), which was created by the Software Publishers Association in 1994 to create a rating system for computer games. RSAC formed a working party in late 1995, including representatives from Time Warner Pathfinder, AT&T, PICS and Microsoft, to develop RSACi. See infra note 13 and accompanying text.

For Content Advisor to use ratings from a PICS-compliant rating service other than RSACi, the user must copy that service's RAT file into his Windows System folder and then click on "Add A New

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