In late February, we were stunned to find out that CyberPatrol, from Microsystems Software, blocked our pages pertaining to our book, Sex, Laws and Cyberspace (Henry Holt, 1996). We wrote the company and a few days later got an apology and a promise to remove our pages from the company's "CyberNot" list. Below is our press release describing the situation and a copy of Microsystem's letter rescinding the ban.
Although our pages will no longer be blocked, CyberPatrol continues to block the EFF pages and the premier Holocaust resource on the Net, the Nizkor pages. All of which illustrates the applicability of Lord Acton's dictum to the publishers of blocking software: power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jonathan Wallace
Six branches of the Boston Public Library, including the main Boston, Cambridge and Brookline branches, own copies of Sex, Laws and Cyberspace, a book on Internet censorship by Jonathan Wallace and Mark Mangan (Henry Holt, 1996). But, if you sit down at one of the two hundred computers maintained by the library and try to access the authors' Web pages at http://www.spectacle.org/freespch, you'll soon be blocked.
The reason is that the library just bought copies of CyberPatrol, a product of Microsystems Software, Inc. (http://www.microsys.com). The company describes its product as blocking smut, hate speech and material pertaining to criminal acts such as software piracy. But the Sex, Laws and Cyberspace pages fit none of these descriptions.
The pages are an outline of the book which the New York Times called "required reading for anyone interested in free speech in modern society." Each chapter is summarized in several paragraphs, and links are given to other Web sites with more information on the cases covered in the book.
The authors have written to Microsystems and the library demanding an explanation, but have not yet received a response.
"It boggles the imagination," said Jonathan Wallace. "I can't believe anyone at Microsystems actually reviewed our pages before blocking them. There is absolutely nothing there which would warrant this."
"The pages aren't obscene or indecent by any standard. It must be that offensive word 'sex' in the title that they're trying to block from our youth", said Mark Mangan, who maintains the Sex, Laws and Cyberspace pages. "Either that or any reference to this whole annoying issue of free speech."
Wallace said, "This illustrates how private blocking software enters into an unhealthy partnership with government. The library has inappropriately appointed Microsystems Software the arbiter of what library users can see."
The authors believe that the purchase of CyberPatrol by the library is a first amendment violation under a line of Supreme Court cases involving the government endorsement of private ratings systems.
CyberPatrol also blocks the Electronic Frontier Foundation's archives (http://www.eff.org) and Nizkor, a Holocaust resource (http://www.nizkor.org).
Thank you for brining this to our attention. This site was blocked in error. I have removed this site from the CyberNOT list. This change will take effect with the next build of the CyberNOT list, by next Tuesday. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this has caused.
Internet Research Supervisor
Microsystems Software Inc.