Report finds support for Web scrubbing

Report finds support for Web scrubbing

A new study has found that a majority of Americans support the removal of information from government Web sites if the information could assist terrorists. But the same survey also found respondents are divided over whether such removal would make a difference in combating terrorism.

The report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project of Washington also found that more people are turning to government sites for information since the attacks of Sept. 11.

In a survey taken in July, only 25 percent of respondents were aware that agencies had already scrubbed Web sites [see story at www.gcn.com/21_3/news/17913-1.html].

Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed agreed that 'the government should do everything it can to keep information out of terrorists' hands, even if that means the public will be deprived of information it needs or wants,' the report said. And 67 percent 'believe the government should remove information from its Web sites that might potentially help terrorists, even if the public has a right to know that information.'

Of those polled, however, 41 percent said Web scrubbing would hinder terrorists. Another 47 percent said the scrubbing would not make a difference in the war on terrorism, and 12 percent were unsure.

To assess reaction to last fall's attacks, a Pew team studied 53 government Web sites, including 41 federal sites. Seventy-six percent of the sites provided some form of information about the attacks, whereas only 28 percent of the sites let visitors get assistance related to the attacks. Some 70 million people looked for information on government Web sites during the summer of 2002, versus 60 million the previous summer.

The report also faulted Congress as a whole for posting minimal information about the attacks, although it noted that some individual members, such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), provided information for victims and links to relief efforts.

Authors of the study included Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Steven M. Schneider of the State University of New York Institute of Technology at Utica-Rome and Kirsten Foot of the University of Washington. Schneider and Foot are co-directors of WebArchivist.org, which assisted the Library of Congress and the Internet Archive in compiling Web sites chronicling the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project is an outgrowth of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press and is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts of Philadelphia.

The report is available online at www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=69.

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