Navigating internet filtering lawsWednesday, February 08, 2012 By Catherine E. Lemel, staff writer/reporter
The protection on the computers these days are getting more and more strict to cope with the constantly updating sites filled with harmful data that can be exposed to children. There have been many acts and laws put into place to protect the students from the harmful material but there is really no way to block every harmful thing out there. The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires that public K-12 libraries and schools in the United States to use filters for the internet, if they want to qualify for internet funding, so that children are protected from inappropriate and harmful materials that are on the web. Libraries and schools who do not use internet filters or blocking devices are not eligible for the government. The Act was put into place on December 21, 2000 and was found to be constitutional by the United States Supreme Court on June 23, 2003. This act, for a while, was labeled unconstitutional because it filters blocked many websites that were legally protected by the first amendment of the United States Constitution. This act may seem like it covers all the bases when it comes to child internet protection but it is only one of the many bills that congress has put into place to limit children's exposure to explicit content online. According to Donys-Kay Merrill, Chief Technology Officer for Transylvania County Schools (TCS), there are two parts to internet protection throughout the school system. The first part is the firewall. A firewall the protector that separates the school system computers from the outside world. The firewalls prevent people from logging into the secure areas and it helps protect the system from viruses and spyware. There is a portal, however, that lets people such as the energy management department into the system so they can control programs such as heating and cooling. The second layer protection is the internet filter. According to CIPA, having a filter is optional, but the school system is required to provide a filter for the internet because of E-rate discounts that the state receives from the federal government for having filters. The program that is in place at TCS at this time is an online program called Zscaler and this is the first year that Transylvania County Schools has used this system. This filter enables internet filtering protection to be set at different levels for elementary, to middle, to high school students, to staff. The filters also cause some conflict when it comes to research. According to Merrill some of the sites that are not nessarily bad for students but contain terms or words that trigger the filters and lead to blocked access. One example she gave is of a student was doing research on breast cancer and the filters blocked the website because it contained on of the trigger words which is ("breast") or if a teacher was working on a curriculum and it involved websites that were blocked by the system, then the filters could be taken down. The CIPA states that the filter can be bypassed for bona fide research like the examples above. Merrill said that in the future there will hopefully be an easier way for teachers to have access to appropriate websites that pertain to the curriculum. There are many proxies—internet websites that bypass the filters—these days and people on the internet are always creating more. Even students make their own ways to get around the filters: some students take it upon themselves to bypass the firewalls to access inappropriate material. There are several ways to make it difficult for students to bypass the filter but it is not impossible. The filter is only one piece of software and there is no way to really block every single option that exists. All TCS computers are monitored and tracked so that what ever is done on the computers can be connected with an account and the person to whom the account belongs.