Porn filter law runs afoul of the law of unintended consequences

Porn filter law runs afoul of the law of unintended consequences

Pornography filters, required by law to be used on library and school computers, often block federal health-related Web sites, a new study found. Some filtering products blocked the sites even at their least-restrictive settings, the authors found.



The study, published in the Dec. 11 Journal of the American Medical Association, tested 3,052 health sites and 516 pornography sites against seven common blocking and filtering products. As settings became more restrictive, blocking the health-related sites became more common. At the most-restrictive settings, 24 percent of health information sites were blocked. But the most-restrictive settings did not substantially increase the blocking of pornographic sites, the study found. Even at their least-restrictive settings, the filters blocked an average of 10 percent of health sites on sexual topics.



In 2000, Congress required software filters in computers at schools and libraries that get federal funding. The law requires blocking sites that are obscene, contain child pornography or are harmful to minors. A federal court struck down the part of the law that applies to libraries earlier this year. The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal on that decision.



Among the federal sites blocked by some filters:






  • A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site of resources for diabetics


  • A Food and Drug Administration article on survival rates for testicular cancer


  • CDC’s fact sheet on genital herpes


  • CDC’s guidelines for treating sexually transmitted diseases


  • A National Library of Medicine page on herpes for health care providers.






The report can also be read at http://www.kff.org/content/2002/20021210a/.


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