Filtering critics & issues in 3 countries

Teachers, not students, are the people most affected by school filters, according to a commentary in the Washington Post – even though the US federal law requiring filtering by schools receiving federal connectivity funding (the Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA) is aimed at protecting students from inappropriate content. “Walk the halls of a public school, and students will readily share tips for evading filters, some of which would be good work-arounds for the Great Firewall of China,” writes Justin Reich, a former high school teacher working on his PhD in education at Harvard. He tells of a high school student who recent showed him a Facebook group called “How to access Facebook from school” that has 187,000 members and offers simple methods for filter-free surfing and profile updating. A teacher told me once that, when she needs to get to a site that her school filter blocks, she just asks one of her students to help her.

So one question is, if this view of filtering as blunt-instrument solution is or becomes widespread, what replaces it? One idea might be school-network monitoring. More than 1,000 UK schools have monitoring software running on their networks (probably mostly alongside filtering software). Are US schools using this technology as much? Should monitoring become more of a focus in schools – to allow administrators to identify problem spots, have the “evidence” they need to work through cases of cyberbullying and harassment? What do you think? Is the choice blanket filtering (that’s less than effective as a student-protection measure) or dealing with situations as they come up? See my slightly related post, “Zero tolerance = zero intelligence: Juvenile judge.” (Post comments here or in the ConnectSafely.org forum, or you can always email me at anne (at) netfamilynews.org.)

And questions about filtering aren’t being aired in the US only, of course. The BBC reports that, over in the UK, school regulatory body Becta just released a report which found that Net technology and devices is getting more sophisticated than the filters UK schools use, which often filter what’s being downloaded only to computers (rather than mobile phones, iPod Touches, and other portable devices) and based solely on keyword, not image, detection. The report also pointed out that filters just block – they don’t alert anybody to efforts to bypass the filtering. And in Australia, children’s advocacy groups are criticizing the government for spending $33 million on mandatory nationwide household filtering, Australian IT reports. “Both Save the Children Australia and the National Children’s & Youth Law Centre believe the resources could be better spent on law enforcement agencies battling to eradicate child pornography on the Internet.”

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