Internet Blocking in Schools and Libraries Research Project
The Internet Blocking in Schools and Libraries Research Project is a response to the
Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000 (CIPA), which requires the installation of Internet blocking (filtering) software in schools and libraries in order for them to receive important federal funding or discounts. The
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Online Policy Group (OPG) are working jointly on the project.
Internet blocking software attempts to deny users' access to sites that fall under "objectionable" categories such as pornography, hate groups, and anonymizer websites that might allow users to evade the blocks. CIPA specifically requires software to block access only to illegal obscenity, child pornography, and "harmful to minors" content. Blocking software usually compared the URL or IP address of the site to a proprietary list. Some programs block all sites not listed as having acceptable material, while others only block sites that appear in the list as specifically having unacceptable material. Other programs scan sites for key words or pictures for large swathes of "flesh-tones" rather than or in addition to working from a list.
A preliminary study will investigate state-mandated curriculum topics. The study will check if expected and legitimate research subjects in public schools and libraries bring up a noticeable number of sites to which the major blocking programs are unwilling to allow access. This will test the validity of concerns regarding overblocking, the phenomenon of Internet blocking software inadvertently denying access to valid sites whose contents do not actually fit the "objectionable" categories which it claims to be blocking.
The researchers will first extract key topics from the standardized curricula of California, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, available to the public on the respective state websites, and sort them by grade level and general subject matter before searching the Web for them using the Google search engine. Researchers will then run the resulting URLs against the blocking software most widely used in schools to provide data for a statistical report. The report will focus both on overall levels of blocking, if present, and on statistically significant differences between the blocking encountered by individual topics, subject areas, grade levels, and states.
If the preliminary study finds interesting results, the EFF and OPG will conduct a further study to document real-life use conditions of Internet blocking software in schools and libraries. The study will investigate how students and adults use the Internet and how the presence of blocking software affects their Internet use.
To apply as a volunteer or intern on the study, go to the
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