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INTERNET FILTERS
A PUBLIC POLICY REPORT
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
Free Expression Policy Project


image: Lonni Sue Johnson

No sooner was the Internet upon us than anxiety arose over the ease of accessing pornography and other controversial content. In response, entrepreneurs soon developed filtering products. By the end of the decade, a new industry had emerged to create and market Internet filters

Yet filters were highly imprecise from the beginning. The sheer size of the Internet meant that identifying potentially offensive content had to be done mechanically, by matching "key" words and phrases; hence, the blocking of Web sites for "Middlesex County," or words such as "magna cum laude.

Internet filters are crude and error-prone because they categorize expression without regard to its context, meaning, and value. Yet these sweeping censorship tools are now widely used in companies, homes, schools, and libraries. Internet filters remain a pressing public policy issue to all those concerned about free expression, education, culture, and democracy.

This fully revised and updated report surveys tests and studies of Internet filtering products from the mid-1990s through 2006. It provides an essential resource for the ongoing debate.

Read the Brennan Center press release
Read the entire report online
Note: Some computers have trouble opening large PDF files. If this happens, you can right-click, then highlight "save link as" and download the PDF to a folder on your computer.


The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as part of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. From May 2004 to March 2007, it was part of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. FEPP has been supported by grants from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

All material on this site is covered by a Creative Commons "Attribution - No Derivs - NonCommercial" license. (See http://creativecommons.org) You may copy it in its entirely as long as you credit the Free Expression Policy Project and provide a link to the Project's Web site. You may not edit or revise it, or copy portions, without permission (except, of course, for fair use). Please let us know if you reprint!