OCTOBER 2002

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Rising Criticism Of Censorship On School Computers
From El Diario
September 19, 2002

Teachers, students and groups committed to the preservation of civil liberties filed a petition to the Department of Education on September 18, claiming that electronic censorship filters should disappear from computers in New York’s schools.

According to the groups, filters limit freedom of speech and access to information protected by the constitution.

"In the course of the years we have noted that these filters restrict access to vital information", said Marjorie Heins, the head of the Free Expression Policy Project, an organization committed to the protection of artistic and intellectual rights.

As a result of the federal law act titled the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), those schools receiving federal subsidies in order to enable access to the Internet are obliged to install filters of censorship on their computers. The act will be implemented this term.

The problem is that the government contracted private companies to design the cyber filters and, according to the organizations, these companies arbitrarily determine what kind of words or web pages are obscene.

"It is hard to believe that a Catholic orphanage in Honduras was blocked by these massive filters", said Kevin Bankston, advocate at the Union for Civil Liberty.

John Elfrank-Dana, teacher of social education in the District 2 in Downtown Manhattan is outraged about the federal school policy. He stated that in the weeks after 9/11 he found out that the word "terrorism" had been blocked by the cyber filter at his school.

About 95 perecent of New York’s schools make use of a censorship filter called "I-Gear", that rejects web sites where the word "anorexia" is mentioned and that even denied access to the web pages of CNN and The Daily News.

The decision whether to use electronic filters or not in New York is left with the State Department for Education. A spokesperson of the institution, Kevin Ortiz, said that the Department "is obliged to stick to the federal law" and added that if a school wishes to have access to a special site, it can request admission by calling the technology department of the State Department for Education.

Translated from Spanish by Kirsten Immendorf

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