html>Blacklisted by Cyber Patrol: Overbroad Blocking

The Censorware Project

Blacklisted by Cyber Patrol

From Ada to Yoyo

A report from The Censorware Project

Overbroad Blocking

An overbroad block is one which may be targeted at content which does indeed fit the categories described, but which also blocks a large amount of other content which should not be blocked.

The wrongly blocked material is sometimes called "collateral damage."

Because of the nature of the internet, a certain amount of overbroad blocking is to be expected.

What amount should we expect? If the software were extremely targeted, it could censor only inappropriate webpages, and leave the rest alone. At the other extreme, one supposes, it might simply block the entire internet.

Neither extreme is practical. To avoid the vast amount of investigation it would take to block individual pages, censorware vendors must block entire directories, entire machines, or even entiredomains.

We can expect that some of this indiscriminate blocking will take place. But how much? Is it fair to block a directory because one page in five is sexually explicit? One page in ten? One page in fifty?

Is it ever fair to block one person's site because another person's site had inappropriate material?

As we shall see in the next section, Cyber Patrol frequently blocks entire machines to target one or two users of those machines. At one internet service provider, 45 clients were blocked because of two that had sexually explicit sites. At another, two hundred clients. At another, fifty separate websites, on separate domains, were blocked because they happened to use the same IP number; it does not appear that there was even any explicit material being blocked.

And at one site, 1.4 million webpages are blocked using every keyword in Cyber Patrol's checklist.

This is not mere overbroad blocking. This is bulldozing a small library building to the ground because there is an unknown amount of offensive material in it.

One improper block:

1,400,000 webpages
seven gigabytes of text
a third of a billion words
seven thousand full-length novels
a stack of books a football field long

Imagine the outcry if a public library began a self-censorship process like this. Because The Story of O was deemed inappropriate for children, all books beginning with the letter O would be thrown out. Not just Penthouse would be banned, but every other magazine on the same shelf.

It would be ridiculous.

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