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

By Monroe E. Price | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Yelling "Filter" on the Crowded Net: The Implications of User Control Technologies

Daniel J. Weitzner


I. INTRODUCTION

Alongside the debate over the V-chip and rating schemes for television smolders burning questions about the impact of blocking, filtering, and other user empowerment tools for the Internet. User empowerment technologies that give users and parents more control over information available online to their children have emerged as critical elements of protecting children from inappropriate content and as a leading alternative to government censorship of content on the Internet.1 During the constitutional litigation that led to the demise of the Communications Decency Act, a broad cross section of the Internet and civil liberties community -- from the ACLU to America Online, Microsoft to the American Library Association, and over 50,000 individual Internet users -- enthusiastically supported user empowerment tools as an alternative to censorship. Indeed, in striking down the CDA, the U.S. Supreme Court found the fact that parents can shield their children from material judged inappropriate as a significant alternative to government censorship laws enacted for the purpose of protecting those same children.2

With the first battle over the CDA won, however, serious concerns have been raised about the impact of user empowerment tools on the free flow of information. Civil liberties advocates raise significant questions: Will blocking and filtering tools squelch the free flow of information that the Supreme Court sought to protect? Will these technologies become dominated by "mainstream" speakers and publishers, crowding out alternative, noncommercial speech? How will filters account for controversial, yet important speech such as news and public affairs? Will Internet technologies designed to enable parents to

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