Rating the Net*
Internet filtering software is hot. Plaintiffs in ACLU v. Reno1 relied heavily on the existence and capabilities of filtering software (also known as blocking software) in arguing that the Communications Decency Act was unconstitutional.2 President Clinton has pledged to "vigorously support" the development and widespread availability of filtering software.3 Some free speech activists see this software as the answer to the dilemma of indecency regulation, making it possible "to reconcile free express of ideas and appropriate protection for kids."4 Indeed, some of the strongest supporters of such software are First Amendment activists who sharply oppose direct government censorship of the Net.5
Internet filtering software, further, is here. As of this writing, the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) working group has developed a common language for Internet rating systems, making it much easier to create and market such ratings.6 Already, two heavily promoted ratings systems (SafeSurf and RSACi) allow content providers to rate their own World Wide Web sites in a sophisticated manner. Microsoft's World Wide Web browser incorporates a feature called Content Advisor that will block Web sites in accordance with the rules of any PICS-compliant ratings system, including SafeSurf and RSACi.7 Stand-alone blocking software -- marketed under such trademarks as SurfWatch, Cyber Patrol, CYBERSitter, KinderGuard, Net Nanny, and Parental Guidance -- is gaining increasing sophistication and popularity.
It is easy to understand the acclaim for filtering software. This software can do an impressive job at blocking access to sexually explicit material that a parent does not wish his or her child to see. The PICS standard for describing ratings systems is an important