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EFFector Vol. 10, No. 03 Feb. 28, 1997 email@example.com
A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation ISSN 1062-9424
EFF Online Filtration/Ratings/Labelling Public Interest Principles
Quote of the Day
What YOU Can Do
* See http://www.eff.org/hot.html for more information
on current EFF activities and online activism alerts! *
Subject: EFF Online Filtration/Ratings/Labelling Public Interest Principles
ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION
PUBLIC INTEREST PRINCIPLES
FOR ONLINE FILTRATION, RATINGS AND LABELLING SYSTEMS
n the subject line, by March 31, 1997 if possible. This draft should not
be redistributed beyond March 31, 1997. The latest version can be found at
This document is a DRAFT, and should not be quoted or paraphrased as a
final statement of position, policy or opinion.
to that effect to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax: +1 415 436 9333.
As the Internet and other computer networking technologies increasingly
become intertwined in the daily lives of a large number of people,
concerns are frequently raised about locating relevant online material
n a sea of data, preventing the exposure of minors to sexually explicit
expression, ensuring that paid online work time is spent productively,
and avoiding racist, sexist or otherwise offensive electronic messages.
A market in competing and complementary filtration solutions has arisen to
address these concerns, empowering the individual to manage the "firehose"
of information available in cyberspace - as well as manage employee
online time on the job, or children's access to controversial information.
These tools range from email sorting utilities, through specially filtered
applications and services that track employee Web browsing. Soon, search
engines and "intelligent" agents may also incorporate aspects of
filtration or content labelling.
Even as these new technologies empower users, parents, and employers,
they pose unique conundrums, involving participant privacy, freedom of
expression, and intellectual property among other issues. Many questions
are raised: "Who's watching and recording what?" "What happens to my
Although many benefits accrue to individual control over Internet content
at the receiving end, the technolgies that make this possible also pose
The principle areas of concern are:
* protection of end-user privacy;
* ability of parents to understand, and to select in detail, what is
* protection of intellectual property rights;
* maintenance of the integrity of information;
* viability of positive as well as negative filtration tools;
* prevention of a system of self-censorship;
* ability of content providers to challenge inappropriate blockage or
These concerns may be addressed by applying core online principles of
trust, and more specific guidelines for filtrations/ratings/labelling
Core Online Trust Principles
EFF has developed a set of core principles for the implementation and
operation of rights-affecting networking technologies, necessary to
establish a base level of consumer and organizational trust in privacy,
* Informed Consent Is Necessary
Consumers have the right to be informed about the privacy, security,
intellectual property and intellectual freedom consequences of an online
transaction or activity, BEFORE entering into one.
* There Is No Privacy Without Security
System security is inexorably linked with privacy - and protection of
intellectual property rights - in an online interaction.
* Standards Vary According to Context
No single narrow standard or policy, regarding free speech, privacy,
or security, is adequate for all situations, or for all participants.
Guidelines for Implementation of Internet Filters and Ratings/Labelling
Information Use and Re-Use
* The filtration provider must inform the user of what personally
identifiable information on the user is being kept and of the use of
this information (including use by the filtration provider, and/or by
any intermediary such as educational institution or employer), whether
or not the information will be made available and in what form to other
parties, to whom, and for what purpose.
* Users must have the right to opt out of any outside third party use of
personally identifiable information, and to restrict use and
redistribution of that information by such outside parties.
* Intermediaries must have the right to opt the intermediary and the user
out of outside party use, and out of marketing use by the service
Confidentiality of Minor Status
* The product or service should never reveal that the browsing/posting
user is a minor, nor reveal any personally identifiable information
publicly or to outside parties, without the intermediary's knowledge and
consent. A child's browsing or other preferences or habits should not
be made available to outside parties in a personally identifiable
manner at all
* Private information such as address or phone number should
not be released to outside parties without the written and informed
consent of the parent.
Notes: Already, the US Congress and Federal Trade Commission,
and other governmental bodies around the world are examining
nformation about children, and to restrict the collection and
dentification system proposed by the Dept. of Justice in the
Communications Decency Act trial - a proposal rejected by the
court - the "broadcasting" of an online child's age or even their
* An explanation of the filtering or rating criteria, and the values or
principles underling them, must be accessible easily and without fee to
customers and content providers, in enough detail to make meaningful
* Customers must be informed especially as to whether the filtration
may block political/social discussion, news reportage, literature,
art, or scientific/reference works, as well as presumed targets (e.g.
explicit images, private "chat" sessions, email, or advertising.)
It must be clear whether blocking is based on topic, keywords, and/or
other distinctions, and how broadly it may reach.
* Customers must also be informed of the limitations of the
software/service - what it does NOT filter, what it cannot prevent - and
generally how the filtering works (respective of trade secret &
proprietary information, of course.)
* User tracking, such as "click-stream" information or "audit trails",
should be an option (if offered at all), not a default.
* If any tracking is enabled and information on the user's browsing or
other Net use (including anything from a list of sites to full-text log,
on either the customer's own system, or held by the filtration service
provider) is available for review by a parent, an intermediary or an
outside party the user should be notified during use or sign-on that
their usage is being monitored and may be reviewed, and by whom. This
notice should come before any connection attempt or other online
activity is logged or processed, and may be shown more frequently to
give better notice.
* If the service or software does not provide such notice to the user,
then it also must not provide an on-site or off-site audit trail or other
form of log available to a parent or employer (nor to outside parties
without a court order.) Audit trail or other tracking information must
never be available to the public without explicit written permission of
* If a site, session or document is blocked, some kind of notice should
appear explaining why, regardless of whether or not the session is being
Notes: As filters become more common both in the home and the workplace,
their phone conversations are recorded. Children's and teens' physical
Examples: Proper notice might consist of pop-up screens that tell the
user at the beginning of a session that their Net browsing is being
of what sites or newsgroups the user has been reading. This reminder
might reappear every half-hour or so. On the other hand, a simple email
filter that sorts incoming messages into content-relevant mailboxes,
notice (other than logging what it had done). Level and detail of notice
s dependent upon potential negative privacy impact on the user.
* The customer should be able to configure what is being filtered, such
as by a user-friendly means of adjusting defaults for filtration/ratings
categories, by selectively adding or deleting specific new sites or
keywords, by turning on or off topics to filter for, or by swapping
entire sets of filtration criteria, as examples.
* Customers should not be placed in the position of purchasing someone
else's morality or preferences for lack of ability to customize or make
meaningful choices. Instead, they need tools that help them filter
out material they do not find appropriate.
Notes: Systems based on the Platform for Internet Content Selection
(PICS) are already compliant with this principle, as PICS allows for
multiple ratings systems from which the user may select, provided that
more than one label bureau is available.
* Creators, moderators and/or owners of sites or other resources rated,
filtered or otherwise negatively impacted should have a means of appeal
within the organization doing the filtration, labelling or rating, to
review the appropriateness of the decision to block/filter that site,
to review the accuracy or breadth of an human-assigned label or
rating, and/or to review the actions of an automated filter or other
function that blocks that site or document. The filtering/rating party
should treat such concerns seriously and help to resolve conflicts when
* Additionally, providers have a responsibility to verify information.
Others must have a right to correct any wrong information about them,
and to have suggested corrections of general fact considered seriously.
One of the most serious problems inherent in the computerization of
records and other information is the wild propagation of errors once
they are introduced. Providers should have a well-thought-out published
policy for dealing with such errors rapidly and fairly, with benefit of
the doubt adhering to the person about whom the information may be
* The full results of such reviews of claims of errors or of mislabelling
or improper filtration should be made available to the filtered-out
party and to the public after the complaint is handled, and not covered
by non-disclosure or other restriction from consumer examination.
When possible, parties should seek arbitration, rather than recourse to
* Filtering, labelling and rating should not modify source material.
Filtered material should simply be blocked, or otherwise dealt with per
customer preference, intact, with any ratings or labels appearing in
frames, menu bars, headers, pop-up windows, or distinct and clearly
attributed lead-ins to the presented content.
Notes: "Four-letter words" should not be replaced by "****", and
HTML code or other content of rated materials. Such practices abuse the
material owner's copyright (in particular, the right to control the
liabilty. Such alterations may also lead to incorrect reportage or
citation, false attributions of quoted material, misinterpretation, and
* Content control systems must not place a heavy burden on content
authors. In particular, a self-rating/labelling system must be
sufficiently simple to implement and use that it does not interfere
with content production, or result in self-censorship to avoid the toil
of labelling content. Under no circumstances should any such system be
imposed by governments, or by private-sector parties such as
Internet service providers, under government pressure.
* Self-labelling schemes logically apply only to comparatively static
documents such as web pages, not to content of a conversational nature,
such as live "chat" or postings to newsgroups and other forums of a
fluid nature. In such cases, the forum as a whole, not each post or
momentary expression in it, could be rated, labelled or filtered.
* Filtration and labeling schemes must be designed carefully, with an
eye to avoiding monopolization that can lead to chilling of free
expression or barriers to access for all but the influential or those
willing to comply with a particular labelling scheme.
* When feasible, content control services should make efforts to not only
block material offensive to their customers, but also provide active
pointers to material these users will appreciate.
Notes: Though concerns about inappropriate material have sped up the
logical culmination, of such efforts is the search for a solution a much
longer standing problem: the difficulty of finding relevant information
n a staggeringly complex and vast flux of data. Working on this larger
fearmongering, helps the evolution of the Internet into a user-friendly
knowledge tool for everyone, and does something active and constructive
for everyone, as well something passive for those for whom the
availability of inappropriate content remains a focus.
* Content control systems must consider among the rating/labelling/blocking
criteria, whenver possible, the context in which the material is found,
and whether it is presented as fact or fiction, textual or graphical,
advocacy or reportage, etc.
* Content control systems must take into account whenever possible the
literary, artistic, journalistic, educational or other value of the
material to be labelled, rated or blocked.
* Local standards should be taken into account, as mores and preferences
vary from culture to culture. A system implementing the values of a
particular subset of one culture may be rationally inapplicable on a
global scale, or even on a local scale elsewhere.
Notes: "Hell" in the context of a religious discussion is not very similar
to the more offensive use of such a term as an expletive. Similarly, if
the word "gay" or images of violent conflict appear in a news report, this
"alternative lifestyle" or "violent" material, unless the customer
filtering/rating system is intended to be and is disclosed as very
between material that advocates or visually displays behavior they find
technology for entirely opposite ends, facilitated by censorship of
Already several public libraries are having filtration softare imposed
upon them by local goverment with political agendas to restrict access to
nformation. The constitutionality of these actions is highly
* Government and semi-governmental entities must refrain from imposing a
requirement for self-ratings, assigning private-sector sites particular
labels, or mandating the use of filtration software. Any attempt to do
so is sheer censorship, consisting of forced silence, coerced speech,
denial of access, or restraint of publication.
* In particular, censorship of online access in libraries and other public
places must be avoided, and filtration must not be the default for
public Internet terminals any more than hiding of "mature" books may be
a default in public libraries. Public libraries must not reduce
adult patrons to reading online only what has passed filtration as
appropriate for children.
* Student's freedom of speech and press, and the rights of libraries and
library patrons, as forumlated in statute, case law, constitutions and
UN treaty, apply fully in the context of online media, not simply paper
and vocal speech.
* The decision to use filtration of online material in the classroom or
children's reading room - and what to filter - must rest with the
teacher or librarian, with no more control by administrators than that
excercized over what paper handouts teachers may use in class or what
books may be checked out by children.
* That libraries can in some cases legally excerise content-based
discretion in what materials they make available does not in and of
itself constitute a reason to do so with online material, nor does it
imply a legislative or executive governmental prerogative to make
or influence those decisions. Likewise, that libraries may protect
valuable or fragile paper works by allowing their use only on special
request, does not indicate that the reverse, "protecting" library
patrons from materials that may be offensive to some, is appropriate.
Libraries must not block online material, then require adults to ask for
a key, password or special permission to access it.
* The decisions of a teacher or librarian in this area, as in others,
should be based on their own criteria, with input from the community
where appropriate, and not controlled by the political priorities of
administrators, or of executive or legislative government. The role of
teachers and librarians is to provide access to information, knowledge
and critical thinking, not to act as online content police.
* Similarly, network service providers must not require users to rate or
label their own material or submit to the editorial control of others.
Government must not coerce or pressure service providers into providing
content control technology, or require users to participate in
content control systems.
* Removing from distribution users' materials or otherwise taking action
against users based on disagreement with how they self-rate is
indefensible, and logically incompatible with the notion of a
* Content filtration defaults must not be built into publicly available
hardware or operating systems, since market dominance by a particular
manufacturer, or adoption by governments, could virtually destroy
free flow of information on the global Internet.
* Filtration service providers must take care not to put into place or
enable the creation of centralized storehouses of personally
identifiable user preferences or other transactional and private
* No filtration, ratings, or other content control system should be
designed specifically for government usage to censor a populace. It is
insufficient justification that a government may have laws against
material that is legal in other parts of the world and accessible
online. Companies providing such technology to the public must not
design it to be intentionally easy to abuse in censoring the public,
and should consciously design their products or services to be difficult
to scale to such misuses.
Notes: As of recent revisions, PICS does NOT appear to be compliant
* Designers and providers of content control technology are encouraged
to participate in the formulation of open platform, public standards.
* In the case of proprietary solutions, care must be taken not to
undermine public standards, even in the name of extending them.
Notes: Open, participatory standardization efforts will increase
many other problems.
* Providers must be mindful of the rights of the customer and user,
particularly privacy rights, but also of the content owner's copyright
and freedom of speech and press.
* Intermediaries must take into account the user's right to read and to
communicate, and to not have personal information revealed or used
* The user needs to be aware of intermediaries' institutional or employer
rights, as well as the rights of other users, of content owners (e.g.,
copyright), and of the provider (e.g., to collect aggregate,
NON-identifiable statistical info, without consent.)
* Content owners must respect the fair use rights of users, and the
rights of users and customers to refuse to receive content they do not
want, as well as a labellers' or raters' rights to honestly review,
comment on, describe, or block for their subscribers the material they
Subject: Quote of the Day
"Falsehoods not only disagree with truths, but usually quarrel among
- Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
Find yourself wondering if your privacy and freedom of speech are safe
the rush to make us secure from ourselves that our government
Concerned that legislative efforts nominally to "protect children" will
actually censor all communications down to only content suitable for
the playground? Alarmed by commercial and religious organizations abusing
the judicial and legislative processes to stifle satire, dissent and
Even if you don't live in the U.S., the anti-Internet hysteria will soon
be visiting a legislative body near you. If it hasn't already.
Subject: What YOU Can Do
* Keep and eye on your local legislature/parliament
All kinds of wacky censorious legislation is turning up at the US state
and non-US national levels. Don't let it sneak by you - or by the
online activism community. Without locals on the look out, it's very
* Inform your corporate government affairs person or staff counsel
f you have one. Keep them up to speed on developments you learn of,
and let your company's management know if you spot an issue that warrants
your company's involvement.
* Find out who your congresspersons are
Writing letters to, faxing, and phoning your representatives in Congress
s one very important strategy of activism, and an essential way of
making sure YOUR voice is heard on vital issues.
try contacting your local League of Women Voters, who maintain a great
that matches Zip Codes to Congressional districts with about 85%
Computer Currents Interactive has provided Congress contact info, sorted
by who voted for and against the Communications Decency Act:
fortunately, been voted out of office.)
* Join EFF!
You *know* privacy, freedom of speech and ability to make your voice heard
n government are important. You have probably participated in our online
campaigns and forums. Have you become a member of EFF yet? The best way to
opinions heard. EFF members are informed and are making a difference. Join
For EFF membership info, send queries to email@example.com, or send any
message to firstname.lastname@example.org for basic EFF info, and a membership form.
EFFector is published by:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation
San Francisco CA 94103 USA
+1 415 436 9333 (voice)
+1 415 436 9993 (fax)
Membership & donations: email@example.com
Legal services: firstname.lastname@example.org
General EFF, legal, policy or online resources queries: email@example.com
Editor: Stanton McCandlish, Program Director/Webmaster (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This newsletter is printed on 100% recycled electrons.
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End of EFFector Online v10 #03 Digest