Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 09:56:54 -0500 (EST)
From: Seth Finkelstein <sethf@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Censorware blacklists *G*U*N*S*
You'll enjoy this. Too bad I'm not able to help out, one less. I've always thought the gunners had a big stake in censorware opposition. <snip personal note>
Monday December 13 08:41 PM EST Web Filter Blocks More Gun Sites LOS GATOS, Calif. (APBnews.com) -- Concerned by violence in the nation's schools, a California company has beefed up its online filtering software to block thousands of new Web pages hawking guns and ammunition.
SurfWatch Software officials said the new version shipped in November filters Web sites that "primarily sell guns, weapons, ammunition or
poisonous substances and sites that allow online purchasing or ordering information, including lists of prices and dealer locations."
The renewed effort follows a series of school shootings in recent years, especially April's deadly rampage at Columbine High School in
Colorado. For years, companies that make Internet filtering software have blocked guns and ammunition sites, which usually were included in an umbrella category, such as violence.
Since most of the filtering software is purchased by parents who want to control what sites their children see, there has been less debate about First Amendment rights than there was over libraries and school
districts filtering sites. "SurfWatch's decision to block these sites was made in response torequests from parents and educators who are concerned about violence in schools and the affect that the Web might play in enabling kids to
obtain weapons," said Alexandra Salomon, director of content management for SurfWatch Software, a division of JSB Software Technologies. More weapons available on Web Statistics compiled by SurfWatch show more than 5,000 Web sites related to weapons and ammunition. The company says the number ofsites blocked for violent content has increased by 22 percent over the last nine months, primarily because of the increase in gun and weapon sites online. By comparison, the number of sexually explicit Web sites
blocked increased 16 percent in the same nine-month period.
Salomon said in mid-1998 there were 870 Web sites related to gun sales
or information. "The dramatic increase in sites that meet our violence criteria over the last year greatly concerned us," Salomon said. She admitted that guns and ammo filtering is not new, but that the company wants to update the number of sites, since so many new ones have gone online in the past 18 months. Salomon said the SurfWatch software includes four categories that parents can turn on or off to block certain sites; they also can add Web addresses. Filters use keywords or target Web sites
There are several Web filtering software tools that users can install on their personal computers to block all kinds of online material -- mainly sites dealing with pornography and hate. Most of this software allows users to deny access to certain categories, such as adult Web sites, and software makers provide updates that add new sites to the
list. There are also network-filtering tools available for the workplace. Other blocking software either allows users to enter keywords, filtering out sites that include those words, or the software itself hunts for keywords in the contents of a Web page.
One filtering-software official at Cyber Patrol said the industry is not trying to block access to sites that people want to see, but to
protect children.being lumped with pornography, gambling, Nazis, etc," Hunnicutt said in an e-mail. "The fact that the gun industry is a relatively small and old one makes it easy for self-appointed censors to shut us out, despite the fact that kids are bombarded with violent content churned out by huge conglomerates like Time-Warner and Universal that is in no
"We are trying to give parents, educators and now even businesses the
ability to restrict what they want their kids to see or their employees. That is really up to them to decide -- and parents also want different filtering for different kids," one company official said. Filters for children, not adults She said the software never was geared toward the adult user.
"This was geared to youngsters and teenagers. You don't want people at
that age trying to buy weapons -- and I don't even know if they could," the Cyber Patrol official said. Bob Hunnicutt of Shotgun News, which bills itself as "The World's Largest Gun Sales Publication," reacted angrily to the push against Web sites that deal with guns. "We in the gun industry are quite annoyed, as you can imagine, at
danger whatever of being blocked." Hard to keep up
Marc Kanter, vice president of marketing for Cybersitter, said that with more than a billion Web pages, it's impossible to keep up with
the number of Web sites being added daily. Cybersitter is made by Solid Oak Software Inc. "We don't list URLs. It actually reads the content of a Web page and makes a determination based on that content whether that page is acceptable," Kanter said. He said that blocking guns and ammo sites, as well as others, is a parental responsibility and has nothing to do with censorship. Free speech not the issue Ari Schwartz, policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, said he does not consider filtering out guns sites to children to be a free-speech issue. "This is not a First Amendment issue, since Surf Watch is aproprietary tool that families and educators can decide to use or not use," Schwartz said. "The government does not mandate it. If it were,
or if it were the only tool available, then it would stifle free expression. However ... there are over 100 different tools that filter
and rate sites." In February, eBay, the big online auction site, nixed Internet listings for firearms and ammunition, since it didn't have thecapability to ensure the sales complied with federal and state laws.
A number of companies that sell or provide gun sale information online
did not return requests for comments.
By David Noack, an APBnews.com staff writer (firstname.lastname@example.org)