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EPIC Alert 4.16 [1997] EPICAlert 16


Volume 4.16 December 1, 1997

Published by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Washington, D.C.

Table of Contents

[1] EPIC Report Slams Internet Content Filters
[2] Groups Establish Internet Free Expression Alliance
[3] New Censorship Bill Introduced in Congress
[4] Court Rules AOL Not Liable for Posted Material
[5] Justice Department Funding
[6] Treasury Department Funding
[7] Congressional Action and New Bills
[8] Upcoming Conferences and Events

[2] EPIC Report Slams Internet Content Filters

EPIC today released a report that finds that "family-friendly" searchengines typically block access to 99 percent of the material on theInternet that would be appropriate for young people. The report wasreleased just prior to a White House summit that will examine the use ofcontent filters and rating systems for the Internet.

EPIC's study was based on a side-by-side comparison of an unfilteredInternet search engine (AtltaVista) with a filtered search engine.
According to Net Shepherd, Inc., its Family Search retrieval servicescreens out material that is "inappropriate and/or objectionable foraverage user families." EPIC tested both search engines using suchsearch phrases as the "American Red Cross," the "National Aquarium," and"Thomas Edison." The study found that the filtered search enginetypically blocked access to 99 percent of the documents containing thosephrases when compared with results returned by AltaVista.

The EPIC report, "Faulty Filters," includes a survey of 100 searchphrases in four categories -- schools; charitable and politicalorganizations; educational and artistic groups; and concepts that mightbe of interest to young people.

Marc Rotenberg, Director of EPIC, said, "We found that as information onpopular topics became more widely available on the Internet, thefiltered search engine was likely to block an even higher percentage.
We further found that the search engine did not seem to restrictsensitive topics for young people any more than it restricted matters ofgeneral interest. Even with the very severe blocking criteria employed,
we noted that some material which parents might consider to beobjectionable was still provided by the software."

The report was released at a press conference held at the National PressClub. EPIC said that it was joining with several other organizations toestablish the Internet Free Expression Alliance (IFEA) to address thefree speech implications of Internet rating and filtering proposals (seeitem below).

The text of the "Faulty Filters" Report is available at:

[2] Groups Establish Internet Free Expression Alliance

EPIC today announced that it is joining with 20 other organizations toestablish the Internet Free Expression Alliance (IFEA). The newcoalition will address the free speech implications of Internet ratingand filtering proposals and promote the open exchange of information onthe Internet.

The formation of IFEA comes one day before the opening of anAdministration-sponsored summit on Internet issues. President Clintonis on record as supporting the widespread use of content ratings andfiltering techniques to create a "family-friendly Internet." At anearlier summit meeting last July, the President said that it "must beour objective" to ensure that the labeling of Internet content "willbecome standard practice."

As detailed in the report EPIC released today, such rating and filteringsystems can block access to a vast amount of valuable information;
according to the EPIC report, 99 percent of all online material istypically filtered out by a new "family-friendly" Internet searchengine. In a statement released at IFEA's inaugural press conference atthe National Press Club, EPIC Legal Counsel David Sobel said, "It istroubling that the White House has so readily embraced an approach thathas the potential to destroy the Internet as an educational resource."

EPIC was a plaintiff in the historic ACLU v. Reno litigation, which ledto last summer's landmark Supreme Court decision striking down theCommunications Decency Act (CDA). Many other organizations that joinedthe CDA challenge are involved in the creation of IFEA. Alliancemembers include the American Civil Liberties Union, American Society ofNewspaper Editors, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, theElectronic Frontier Foundation, the National Coalition AgainstCensorship, the National Writers Union and the Society of ProfessionalJournalists.

For information on IFEA can be found at:

[3] New Censorship Bill Introduced in Congress

Senator Dan Coats (R-IN), one of the original sponsors of theCommunications Decency Act, introduced a new bill to regulate content onthe Internet on November 8. The new bill seeks to limit material on thenet that is "harmful to minors."

The bill, S. 1482, provides that "Whoever in interstate or foreigncommerce in or through the World Wide Web is engaged in the business ofthe commercial distribution of material that is harmful to minors shallrestrict access to such material by persons under 17 years of age."
Violations are punishable by $50,000 fines and six month imprisonment.

The Federal Communications Commission would be given the power todetermine what forms of age verification are acceptable, including averified credit card, debit account, adult access code, adult personalidentification number" or other means "as the Commission may prescribe."
The FCC and the Attorney General are required to post on the web "suchinformation as is necessary to inform the public of the meaning of theterm `material that is harmful to minors'".

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Scienceand Transportation. No hearings have been scheduled. More informationon the bill, free speech and the CDA litigation is available at:

[4] Court Rules AOL Not Liable for Posted Material

A Federal court ruled on November 14 that America Online is not liablefor failing to remove material from its bulletin boards after beingnotified that the material was a malicious hoax. The U.S. DistrictCourt for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that provisions enactedinto the law as part of the Communications Decency Act preempt libelactions under state common law and exempt online services fromliability.

The case began when an unknown person placed a series of false noticeson one of AOL's bulletin boards advertising t-shirts and other itemswith slogans glorifying the bombing of the Federal Building in OklahomaCity. The ads contained Kenneth Zeran's name and telephone number andsuggested he had posted them. Zeran received numerous death threatsfrom people outraged by the posted notices. He sued, claiming AOL wasnegligent in allowing the notices to remain and reappear on AOL despitehis complaints following the appearance of the first advertisement.

The court ruled that Congress intended that the CDA preempt statedefamation law:

Distributor liability discourages Internet providers from engaging in efforts to review online content and delete objectionable material, precisely the effort Congress sought to promote in enacting the CDA. Indeed, the most effective means by which an Internet provider could avoid the inference of a "reason to know" of objectionable material on its service would be to distance itself from any control over knowledge of online content provided by third parties. This effect frustrates the purpose of the CDA and, thus, compels preemption of state law claims for distributor liability against interactive computer service providers.

Free speech attorneys are concerned that the decision could encouragemore censorship by online services.

[5] Justice Department Funding

On November 13, a conference committee approved H.R. 2267, a bill makingappropriations for the Departments of Commerce, Justice and State, theJudiciary, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30,

The committee approved a total budget of $2,930,042,000 for the FederalBureau of Investigation, including money from the Violent CrimeReduction Trust Fund. Of that, over $200 million was set aside forsurveillance technology, databases and other privacy relatedtechnologies. This includes some of the $50,000,000 for automated dataprocessing and telecommunications and technical investigative equipment;
$1,500,000 to maintain an independent program office dedicated solely tothe relocation of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division andthe automation of fingerprint identification services; and $5,500,000for establishing DNA quality-assurance and proficiency-testing standardsand establishing an index to facilitate law enforcement exchange of DNAidentification information.

The committee also approved $11,845,000 and 56 positions (including 34agents) to establish Computer Investigative and Infrastructure ThreatAssessment (CITAC) Teams and for technical equipment and contractorsupport for the CITAC Center; $900,000 for training and equipment forComputer Analysis Response Teams; $10,000,000 and 60 new positions(including 25 agents) to expand the FBI's efforts to combat childpornography and sexual exploitation on the Internet and via on-lineservice providers; $9,059,000 for the FBI's acquisition of a FOIAdocument processing system; and $84,400,000 for expenses related toautomation of fingerprint identification services.

However, the Conference Committee agreed not to include more money forfunding the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).
The committee was critical of the implementation of the program:

The conferees note with concern, the continued delays in implementation of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). CALEA was enacted over three years ago and there has been little, if any, progress in developing much needed upgrades for telecommunications systems to support law enforcement wiretapping requirements. Based on recent discussions between the Committees on Appropriations, the Department of Justice and representatives from the telecommunications industry,
an agreement was reached in an attempt to move this process forward, which included a commitment by both the industry and law enforcement that by January 4, 1998, the Department of Justice will provide to the Committees on Appropriations: (1) cost estimates for the development and deployment of the solution; (2)
a timeline for development and deployment of the solution; and (3) two signed cooperative agreements with appropriate telecommunications carriers and/or equipment manufacturers. The conferees agree that completion of these steps will indicate whether or not industry and law enforcement officials are committed to the implementation of CALEA and whether additional funding, within the amounts authorized for reimbursement to the telecommunications industry, will be provided in the future.

[6] Treasury Department Funding

On October 10, President Clinton signed H.R. 2378, the Treasury andGeneral Government Appropriations Act for FY 1998 (Public Law: 105-61).
The bill provides funding for the Treasury Department and itscomponents, including the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN),
the Secret Service and other smaller agencies.

The Treasury Department appropriation includes $1,000,000 for the SecureOutreach/Encrypted Transmission Program; $1,460,000 to provide technicalassistance and to assess the effectiveness of new technology intended tocombat identity-based crimes; $15,000,000 for high energy containerx-ray systems and automated targeting systems; $9,500,000 for thepassenger processing initiative; $4,500,000 for Forward-Looking Infraredcapabilities; and $13,000,000 to the Counterdrug Technology AssessmentCenter for a program to transfer technology to State and local lawenforcement agencies.

A provision to prohibit the IRS from placing SSNs on mailing labels wasleft out by the conference committee, but the committee requested thatthe IRS report to the Committees on Appropriations on how it plans toprotect taxpayer privacy in its mailings.

[7] Congressional Action and New Bills

Bills Approved or Signed into Law
H. R. 2977. The Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 1997.
Approved by the House on November 10 and the Senate on November 13. Thebill excludes from the Federal Advisory Committee Act "(i) any committeethat is composed wholly of full-time, or permanent part-time, officersor employees of the Federal Government, and (ii) any committee that iscreated by the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy ofPublic Administration." The bill also requires more public oversightwhen Federal agencies utilize the Academies.

S. 170. Clone Pager Authorization Act of 1996. Approved by the Senateon November 7. The bill lowers the legal standard for obtaining anumeric clone pager from a court order based on probable cause to onebased on whether it is needed for an ongoing investigation. Introducedby DeWine and Leahy (D-VT).

S. 858. Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998. AmendsFair Credit Reporting Act to allow government agencies to obtain creditreports of employees in national security investigations. Signed by thePresident on November 20 (Public Law 105-107).

Bills Introduced
H.R.3048. Digital Era Copyright Enhancement Act. Introduced by Boucher(R-VA) and Campbell (R-CA) on November 13, 1997. Implements WIPOTreaty. Ensures "Fair Use". Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

S.1499. Health Insurance Consumer's Bill of Rights Act of 1997.
Introduced by Boxer (D-CA) on November 9. Requires managed care grouphealth plans to establish written policies and procedures for thehandling of medical records; ensure the confidentiality of specifiedenrollee information; and prevent release of any individual patientrecord information, unless such a release is authorized in writing bythe enrollee or otherwise required by law. Referred to the Committee onLabor and Human Resources.

S. 1521. Law Enforcement Technology Advertisement Clarification Act of1997. Introduced by Hatch (R-UT) on November 9. Authorizes advertisingof wiretapping and bugging equipment if provided to government agencies.
Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

[8] Upcoming Conferences and Events

Annual Computer Security Applications Conference. December 9-12. SanDiego, CA. Sponsored by ASCA.

Education in Computer Security Workshop, January 19-21, 1998. PacificGrove, California. Sponsored by Naval Postgraduate School Center forINFOSEC. Contact:
RSA'98 -- The 1998 RSA Data Security Conference. January 12-16, 1998.
San Francisco, CA. Contact or

Financial Cryptography '98. February 23-26, 1998. Anguilla, BWI.
7th USENIX Security Symposium. January 26-29, 1998. San Antonio, TXSponsored by USENIX & CERT.
The Eighth Conference on Computers, Freedom & Privacy. February, 18-20,
1998. Austin, TX. Contact:

ACM Policy98. May 10-12, 1998. Washington, DC. Sponsored by ACM andUSACM.

(Send calendar submissions to

Subscription Information

The EPIC Alert is a free biweekly publication of the Electronic PrivacyInformation Center. To subscribe or unsubscribe, send email with the subject: "subscribe" (no quotes) or"unsubscribe". A Web-based form is available at:
Back issues are available at:

About EPIC

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is a public interest researchcenter in Washington, DC. It was established in 1994 to focus publicattention on emerging privacy issues such as the Clipper Chip, theDigital Telephony proposal, national ID cards, medical record privacy,
and the collection and sale of personal information. EPIC is sponsoredby the Fund for Constitutional Government, a non-profit organizationestablished in 1974 to protect civil liberties and constitutionalrights. EPIC publishes the EPIC Alert, pursues Freedom of InformationAct litigation, and conducts policy research. For more information,
e-mail, or write EPIC, 666Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20003. +1 202 544 9240(tel), +1 202 547 5482 (fax).

If you'd like to support the work of the Electronic Privacy InformationCenter, contributions are welcome and fully tax-deductible. Checksshould be made out to "The Fund for Constitutional Government" and sentto EPIC, 666 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Suite 301, Washington DC 20003.
Individuals with First Virtual accounts can donate at
Your contributions will help support Freedom of Information Act andFirst Amendment litigation, strong and effective advocacy for the rightof privacy and efforts to oppose government regulation of encryption andfunding of the National Wiretap Plan.

Thank you for your support.

END EPIC Alert 4.16

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