PICS search engines with 99% false negatives??

Rohit Khare (
Sun, 30 Nov 1997 21:24:45 -0800

Well, they certainly are erring on the side of caution... :-)


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Date: Mon, 1 Dec 1997 00:05:35 -0500
From: Declan McCullagh <>
Subject: FC: "Faulty Filters" report; anti-rating free speech alliance
X-FC-URL: Fight-Censorship is at

[From December 1 EPIC Alert --Declan]

[2] EPIC Report Slams Internet Content Filters

EPIC today released a report that finds that "family-friendly" search
engines typically block access to 99 percent of the material on the
Internet that would be appropriate for young people. The report was
released just prior to a White House summit that will examine the use of
content filters and rating systems for the Internet.

EPIC's study was based on a side-by-side comparison of an unfiltered
Internet search engine (AtltaVista) with a filtered search engine.
According to Net Shepherd, Inc., its Family Search retrieval service
screens out material that is "inappropriate and/or objectionable for
average user families." EPIC tested both search engines using such
search phrases as the "American Red Cross," the "National Aquarium," and
"Thomas Edison." The study found that the filtered search engine
typically blocked access to 99 percent of the documents containing those
phrases when compared with results returned by AltaVista.

The EPIC report, "Faulty Filters," includes a survey of 100 search
phrases in four categories -- schools; charitable and political
organizations; educational and artistic groups; and concepts that might
be of interest to young people.

Marc Rotenberg, Director of EPIC, said, "We found that as information on
popular topics became more widely available on the Internet, the
filtered search engine was likely to block an even higher percentage.
We further found that the search engine did not seem to restrict
sensitive topics for young people any more than it restricted matters of
general interest. Even with the very severe blocking criteria employed,
we noted that some material which parents might consider to be
objectionable was still provided by the software."

The report was released at a press conference held at the National Press
Club. EPIC said that it was joining with several other organizations to
establish the Internet Free Expression Alliance (IFEA) to address the
free speech implications of Internet rating and filtering proposals (see
item below).

The text of the "Faulty Filters" Report is available at:

[2] Groups Establish Internet Free Expression Alliance

EPIC today announced that it is joining with 20 other organizations to
establish the Internet Free Expression Alliance (IFEA). The new
coalition will address the free speech implications of Internet rating
and filtering proposals and promote the open exchange of information on
the Internet.

The formation of IFEA comes one day before the opening of an
Administration-sponsored summit on Internet issues. President Clinton
is on record as supporting the widespread use of content ratings and
filtering techniques to create a "family-friendly Internet." At an
earlier summit meeting last July, the President said that it "must be
our objective" to ensure that the labeling of Internet content "will
become standard practice."

As detailed in the report EPIC released today, such rating and filtering
systems can block access to a vast amount of valuable information;
according to the EPIC report, 99 percent of all online material is
typically filtered out by a new "family-friendly" Internet search
engine. In a statement released at IFEA's inaugural press conference at
the National Press Club, EPIC Legal Counsel David Sobel said, "It is
troubling that the White House has so readily embraced an approach that
has the potential to destroy the Internet as an educational resource."

EPIC was a plaintiff in the historic ACLU v. Reno litigation, which led
to last summer's landmark Supreme Court decision striking down the
Communications Decency Act (CDA). Many other organizations that joined
the CDA challenge are involved in the creation of IFEA. Alliance
members include the American Civil Liberties Union, American Society of
Newspaper Editors, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, the National Coalition Against
Censorship, the National Writers Union and the Society of Professional

For information on IFEA can be found at:


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