Lawmakers force schools to filter Internet

Bill slipped into massive spending package clears Congress at session's end

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congress passed a bill in December requiring many elementary and secondary schools and public libraries receiving federal technology funds to install Internet filters on their computers.

The Children's Internet Protection Act, introduced in the Senate by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rick Santorum, R-Pa., was included in a massive spending package that Congress passed before recessing for the year. Reps. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., and Charles Pickering, R-Miss., are the House sponsors.

President Clinton, though historically opposed to mandatory Internet filters, signed the $450 billion federal spending bill Dec. 21.

The measure cleared the Senate in June after being attached to HR 4577, the spending bills for the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services.

The bill has provoked an interesting combination of opponents, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Christian Coalition to companies that sell blocking software. All opponents say the bill is a bad way to teach children responsible Internet use.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is on record opposing the bill, but few other legislators joined him. He opposes all mandatory filters, advocating instead provisions that would require Internet providers to distribute filtering software free or at production cost.

The ACLU has vowed to fight the bill's requirement that blocking software be installed on public libraries in court. Another filtering opponent, Peacefire, has released a program it says "can disable all popular Windows censorware with the click of a button."

reports, Winter 2000-01