Does the use of Internet filters raise First Amendment concerns?
The answer to that question depends on whom you ask. There is clearly significant congressional support for the use of filtering technology, as evidenced by the passage of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). In addition, local school districts have already begun incorporating the technology into their computer systems, demonstrating their belief that the technology serves a useful, even essential, purpose.
However, a 2001 review of filtering software by Consumer Reports suggests that filtering technology has a long way to go. According to the report, computer filters, on average, fail to block one out of every five sites deemed "objectionable." AOL's Young Teens setting, for example, did better than most of the sites surveyed, by blocking 86 percent of the targeted sites. At the same time, it prevented 63 percent of the "legitimate" sites from being seen as well.1
The question of whether filtering works is a highly subjective one. It undoubtedly eliminates a host of undesirable sites, but the limitations of the technology raise some compelling First Amendment rights issues, especially with regard to older students.
If your school is not bound by law to install filters, you may want to consult with counsel and solicit the input of a wide range of stakeholders in the community before making a decision. That way, whatever decision is reached will include the greatest possible variety of perspectives.
Consumer Reports, March 2001.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 | 10:36:52