Software: The Religious Connection
Religious Connection Report
The Religious Connection Report
PDF version. (You will need Adobe
8e6 Technologies (R2000 or X-Stop)
Solid Oak (CyberSitter)
BSafeSchool/American Family Online
Nancy Willard, M.S. J.D.
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
Web site: http://csriu.org/publications.html
February 24, 2002
"Your home. Your values. Your Internet.
Help maintain LDS values when you use the Internet."
- MStar.Net logo. (http://www.mstar.net/isp/default.htm)
Christian portal to the Web, we recognize that the number one issue for the
Christian community is using the Web safely and responsibly. . That's why
we've recently launched CrossingGuard, the only free server-level, continuously-updated
Web filtering solution available ..."
- Statement by CEO of Crosswalk (http://www.gospelcom.net/ccmag/articles/covr399plus.html)
Family Filter is built on the Christian principal of holiness and living a
pure life. ... American Family Filter stands apart from other blocking software,
employing a uniquely Christian approach to our content filtering. We adhere
to a higher standard, because American Family Filter is a ministry first and
foremost, and therefore we are accountable to a Higher Authority for the product
- Statement on American Family Filter web site (http://www.afafilter.com/about.asp)
We use a sophisticated server-based filtering process to eliminate objectionable
material. ... We filter out the standard offensive material - pornography,
profanity, and violence. In addition, we uphold our own set of standards...Biblical
- Statement on 711.Net web site (http://www.711online.net/filterphilosophy.htm)
What do all of
these conservative religious Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have in common?
They are all using filtering products that are also being used in U.S. public
The Religious Connection is a new report issued by the Responsible Netizen
Project of the Center for Advanced Technology in Education of the University
of Oregon College of Education. The report is online at http://netizen.uoregon.edu/
This report reviews
the relationships of eight filtering software companies with conservative religious
organizations. Some of the filtering companies are providing filtering services
to conservative religious ISPs that are representing to their users that the
service filters in accord with conservative religious values. Some of the filtering
companies appear to have partnership relationships with conservative religious
organizations. Some filtering companies have been functioning as conservative
religious ISPs and have recently established new divisions that are marketing
services to schools. Most of the companies have filtering categories in which
they are blocking web sites presenting information known to be of concern to
people with conservative religious values -- such as non-traditional religions
and sexual orientation -- in the same category as material that no responsible
adult would consider appropriate for young people.
The existence of
these relationships and blocking categories raises the concern that the filtering
products used in schools are inappropriately preventing students from accessing
certain materials based on religious or other inappropriate bias. Because filtering
software companies protect the actual list of blocked sites, searching and blocking
key words, blocking criteria, and blocking processes as confidential, proprietary
trade secret information it is not possible to prove or disprove the hypothesis
that the companies may be blocking access to material based on religious or
other inappropriate bias. This situation raises concerns related to student's
constitutionally-protected rights of access to information and excessive entanglement
of religion with schools.
The companies include:
N2H2 (Bess), Symantec (I-Gear), 8e6 Technologies (R2000 or X-Stop), Solid Oak
(CyberSitter), NetComply/711.Net, BSafeSchool/American Family Online, EduGuard/S4F,
and SurfClear. The report investigates the relationship between these filtering
software companies and conservative religious organizations, outlines potential
areas of concern raised by such connections from the perspective of the use
of these products in public schools, and presents recommendations to address
Internet Protection Act requires that all schools seeking federal funds through
the E-Rate program and Title VI of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
of 1965, install a "technology protection measure" to protect against
access to obscene material, child pornography, and material that is harmful
to minors. Many public school district in the U.S. have or will be installing
filtering software that functions by blocking access to sites that the filtering
company has determined are inappropriate.
- Three filtering
companies, that have a major presence in public schools, are also selling
their product to conservative religious Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Most of these conservative religious ISPs are directly stating or strongly
implying to their users that the filtering system is filtering in accord with
conservative religious values.
- The other five
filtering companies have functioned as conservative religious ISPs, are selling
to conservative religious ISPs, and/or have expressed a conservative religious
philosophy. Four of these companies appear to have recently begun to target
the school market in the context of the new CIPA requirements.
- The conservative
religious ISPs encourage their users to submit the URLs of sites that they
think should be blocked. Filtering companies generally perceive the risks
of failing to block access to inappropriate material as more significant than
the risks of blocking access to appropriate material. It is reasonable to
assume that filtering companies would generally block such reported sites,
thus raising the question of the cumulative impact of such reporting and blocking.
- Seven companies
have blocking categories where the description for the category provides strong
evidence that the company is blocking based on religious or other inappropriate
bias. The categories block access to protected material along with material
that would be unacceptable in school. In some cases, the category that contains
protected material contains other material that would likely meet the definition
of "harmful to minors" and thus be required to be blocked under
CIPA. The existence of blocking categories where inappropriate bias is blatantly
evident raises concerns that these companies fail to understand the constitutional
standards regarding student's rights of access to information and that material
is also being blocked in other categories on the basis of inappropriate bias.
- Although information
about the religious connections can be found through diligent search, such
information is not clearly evident on the corporate web site or in materials
that would provide the source of information for local school officials.
- When local
school officials select and implement a filtering product, they are provided
only a list of potential categories to be blocked, with a short description
of the types of material blocked in the categories. Filtering companies protect
the actual list of blocked sites, searching and blocking key words, blocking
criteria, and blocking processes as confidential, proprietary trade secret
information. Therefore, local school officials have essentially delegated
control to filtering companies to make decisions about the appropriateness
of material for students when there is no vehicle to determine how such control
is being exercised.
- Numerous reports
on filtering products have revealed that such products consistently over-block
and thereby the prevent access to perfectly appropriate material. The reasons
for such over-blocking --which could include technical inadequacies, process
inadequacies, and bias -- are not easily discernable, due to the lack of access
to necessary information.
- Because filtering
companies protect the actual list of blocked sites, searching and blocking
key words, blocking criteria, and blocking processes as confidential, proprietary
trade secret information it is not possible for an independent researcher
to identify specific sites that "prove" that companies are engaged
in blocking based on inappropriate religious or other bias.
- There is no
auditing mechanism in place that provides for the independent, objective analysis
of the manner in which these, and other, filtering companies are making blocking
decisions that would ensure that such decisions are being made in accord with
constitutional standards that protect students' rights of access to information
and avoid public school entanglement with religion.
- If school decision-makers
are now required, by law, to implement technology protection measures, an
independent, objective auditing mechanism must be established to ensure that
companies providing blocking products are not blocking access to material
in violation of students' constitutional rights.
should be established to facilitate student access to comprehensive teen health
and sexual education web sites that have been reviewed by health care and
educational professionals and found to be appropriate and accurate.
- Rather than
placing primary reliance on filtering tools, schools should develop comprehensive
strategies to help students learn to use the Internet in a safe and responsible
manner, in accord with school standards and their personal family values.
Schools cannot enforce a wide range of individual family values when students
are using the Internet in schools. Schools can reinforce the importance of
using the Internet in accord with personal family values by providing parents
with access to their child's Internet usage records.