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While we have typically regarded regulation of the Internet with caution and distrust, as the Commission on Online Child Protection recently stated, “[T]he protection of America’s children online has been a powerful motivating issue for policymakers.” The commission, which was created as a result of the passage of the “Children Online Protection Act” (COPA), was directed to study “methods to help reduce access by minors to material that is harmful to minors on the Internet.” While this act has been in litigation since its passage, the commission recently issued its first report to Congress, evaluating available technologies and their effectiveness in protecting children from harmful content and making recommendations for further legislative and/or administrative action. One of the more prominent recommendations presented by the commission was the use of “filtering” technologies. These technologies are designed to block access to content that meets certain predetermined offensive categories. SOFTWARE The first wave of filtering technology, and the most widely used right now, is special software that uses certain “keywords” to block access to sites containing those keywords. The software developer or the user can load the keywords to be filtered and future access to all sites containing those keywords will be denied. It is important when reviewing filtering software to look for software that filters in context as opposed to just a stand alone filter, or you may see unintended consequences. For example, filtering software that does not filter in context may inadvertently block access to a site with recipes for saut�ed chicken breasts. There are companies that claim they have developed technology that can recognize the difference between pornographic photographs and classic nude artwork. These companies weed out sexually oriented material without relying on a database of objectionable web sites. One such company, Clicksafe, claims that it deploys image-recognition technology that examines the fleshtones of pixels on web sites before blocking those that are considered objectionable. In its own words, Clicksafe appears to share a spiritual kinship with the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, as the Clicksafe technology claims to know pornography when it sees it. Critics, however, believe that this kind of technology is limited at best. They claim that because the content on the web is interactive and therefore constantly changing, that the best filtering software is hopelessly outdated before it ever hits the market. Whether or not this is true, filtering software remains the most common and arguably the most user-friendly technology available to filter content. SERVICE PROVIDERS The newest entry into the filtering marketplace are ISPs that restrict access to objectionable sites. One such ISP is offered by a Christian Internet site, iBelieve has launched, as a new no-fee ISP. will provide consumers with local dial-up access to the Net with built-in filtering technology. Some argue that these ISPs do not allow consumers/users the flexibility to customize their filters. For example, adult users may want access to certain sites while blocking those same sites from their children. With the filter housed in the ISP, some say this option does not exist. SERVER BASED FILTERS Still another new technology locates the filter at the server. This technology has developed more in response to business concerns with content as opposed to parental concerns. It’s obvious that most American businesses are using the Internet in nearly all aspects of their offices. Everything from routine e-mails to high-end business applications can be accessed over the corporate network. An unintended consequence of this use has been employees accessing inappropriate content in the workplace. Several recent high-profile firings at Fortune 500 companies have underscored the need for filtering software in the workplace also. Charlotte, N.C., based 711.Net, Inc. is just one of the companies that has been in the at-home filtering business for several years, and has now turned its attention to what it feels is the much more lucrative business market. Companies subscribing to 711.Net’s NETcomply unit, have all Web activity filtered through a NETcomply server. Each company’s service is custom designed to address its own concerns. For example, some companies may simply want the system to filter pornographic material, while other companies may want that feature as well as a filter on other online activities. Companies concerned about productivity matters, such as employees shopping online or day trading while on the job can program the NETcomply technology to deny access to those sites as well. NETcomply claims that its technology is so flexible and user-friendly that it can even be programmed to prohibit shopping or trading during the work day, but allow such activity during the employees’ lunch hour or after work. CONCLUSION There are many factors that must be considered prior to purchasing this technology: Do you want personal control over the filter or do you want someone else to take care of that responsibility? Do you want a system that errs on the side of blocking everything or one that allows you more flexibility but may actually allow some objectionable content to get through? Once you have addressed these questions, you can choose any of these filtering options and feel more comfortable.

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