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A Safer Internet for Children

Content Filtering for the School

By: Eric Durrand

In the past decade, the internet had become a primary medium for disseminating, collecting, and retrieving any kind of information. With technologies available to us today, anyone can go online and publish written or graphic material, unrestricted. The internet, a decentralized network, is hard to control – as countries like Iran and China are discovering over and over again.

Students, researchers, and anyone with a web browser can go online and quickly find definitions, articles, and research data on any topic. Unless appropriate measures are taken, the very open and free nature of the internet can lead to undesirable results. Obscene contents are a few clicks away, and can even pop up without being called for. The volume of pornography on the web, according to government research, is more than 100,000 pornographic web sites that can be accessed for free without requiring any registration information; tens of thousands of web sites contain child pornography.

Schools and libraries, often desiring to provide Internet Access for its tremendous educational benefits, are facing serious problems, prevent access to obscene content. The government took the issue a step further with the Child Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, a federal law enacted by Congress in December 2000. CIPA imposes content filtering requirements on schools and libraries which receive government funding for internet access through the E-Rate program.

Arguments against CIPA’s constitutionality have been raised by various organizations, and rejected by the Supreme Court. But the dilemma for schools and libraries remains a difficult one. Filtering solutions, while in general effective, have their flaws. They might not block an occasional obscene website, and worse – they might block legitimate information, thus preventing a teenager from reading about breast cancer, or about sexuality in general, including information that can be found in books of most libraries. The financial aspect, while less critical, might also be significant. This Excel spreadsheet from the American Library Association will help compare the costs of filtering with the benefits of E-Rate.

In recent years more and more schools are installing content filtering solutions, whether to qualify for the E-Rate program, or to prevent potentially harmful materials from reaching their students. Solutions like N2H2, Cyber Patrol, Symantec’s I-Gear, and 8e6 Technologies’ X-Stop fulfill the E-Rate requirements by maintaining a list of blocked sites that gets updated continuously. Other interesting solutions are Gaggle.Net, which offers filtered E-Mail solution specifically designed for schools; CyberSitter, which is meant for private homes or individual workstations; and ContentKeeper, which keeps distracting websites out, including gambling, porn, and idle amusement websites.

Implementing the right content filtering solution takes thought and planning. First, there is cost, then – free access to information. A high school library would consider implementing content filtering differently than a kindergarten; it is more likely that legitimate content will be blocked. The kind of content to be blocked is also a consideration: Is it just obscene content, or any unproductive website? Would there be exceptions, or would everything be managed centrally?

Only by answering these questions can you find the right solution for your school. Content Filtering is becoming a must in many establishments, particularly any that offers internet access to young children. If your school is one of them, make sure you don’t neglect this important aspect of their protection.

Posted on March 21, 2005 at 03:53 AM | Permalink


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