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From Marc Rotenberg <>
Subject EPIC letter to CNET.COM and the Internet Community
Date Thu, 24 Jul 1997 01:30:26 GMT

To Mr. Barr of CNET.COM and the Internet Community,

On July 21 Christopher Barr, editor in chief of CNET,
endorsed Internet rating schemes in a column
titled "Rating Online Content Can Work".

In this column, Mr. Barr says

  A number of groups, including the
  American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic
  Privacy Information Center, support the use of such
  software on principle, but they also point out that
  filtering software can be used to block any kind of
  content, not just sexually explicit material, and so
  it can end up restricting free speech.

I want to be clear that EPIC, both a plaintiff and counsel in
the challenge to the Communications Decency Act, does not support
the use of blocking software in principle or practice. We do not
support rating systems for the following reasons.

First, we believe that the fundamental purpose of a rating system
-- to allow one person to decide what information another person
may receive -- is contrary to the character of the Internet and
the principles of openness and individuality found in a free society.
Unlike search engines that allow individuals to select information
based on their preferences and desires, rating systems impose one
person's or one organization's viewpoint on another. Such techniques
could be used as easily by governments against citizens and employers
against employees as they could by parents against children, as was
made clear by one of the PICS creators in an early paper on the

Second, we have already seen rating systems used to block access to
information that could in no reasonable way be considered indecent.
Rating systems have blocked access to political organizations,
medical information, and unpopular viewpoints. In public libraries
and public schools such techniques violate well established First
Amendment freedoms. Such products should be roundly criticized by
Internet publishers, not endorsed.

Third, we believe that over time rating systes are likely to make it
easier -- not more difficult -- for governments around the world to
enforce content-based controls on Internet content. This process is
already underway in many countries which are now considering
PICS-based schemes to implement national content controls. Further,
our reading of the Supreme Court's opinion in Reno V. ACLU is that
content based controls would be upheld in the US once rating
systems and means for age verification and widely available. It
was the nature of the Internet, and not the availability of rating
systems, that produced the wonderful outcome in that case. But
once voluntary standards are in place, statutory controls will
surely follow.

We recognize that the availability of material that some might consider
offensive poses a difficult problem for on-line information providers.
We further recognize that there is indeed some material on the Internet
that is genuinely abhorrent.  But we do not believe you can hide
the world from your children. We should help our children to
understand the world, and then help them make it better. Good
parenting is not something found in a software filter; it takes
time, effort, and interest. And it takes trust in young people to
develop within themselves judgment and reason, and the ability to
tell right from wrong.

We also caution against any efforts to distinguish between bona fide
news organizations and others. The framers of our First Amendment
wisely drew no such distinction, and thus we have avoided the process
of licensing and government approval that othe countries have pursued.
News organizations that today seek to draw such a line may in the
future find themselves placed on the wrong side.

These are difficult issues. It is not easy today to criticize
the ratings proposal which has recently received White House
endorsement.  This fact alone should give those who value
free speech and who opposed the Communications Decency Act
reason to think twice. It is also the reason that we applaud the
American Library Association for its principled opposition to
the use of software filters in libraries.

We hope other organizations will join with EPIC, the ACLU, and
the ALA and recognize that we all  have a common interest in the
protection of intellectual freedom and the openness of the Internet.

We will continue to offer information about the PICS debate at our
web site -- -- so that individuals and organizations
that provide information online can make fully informed decisions
about the desireability of rating systems.

Finally, we hope CNET.COM will reconsider its position on the
rating issue. In the end, it will be the decisions of individual
Internet news organizations and other online publishers that will
determine the openness and accessibility of the Internet for us all.
We share a common interest in preserving the free flow of information
across the Internet.


Marc Rotenberg, director

Marc Rotenberg, director                *   +1 202 544 9240 (tel)
Electronic Privacy Information Center   *   +1 202 547 5482 (fax)
666 Pennsylvania Ave., SE Suite 301     *
Washington, DC 20003   USA              +

----- End of forwarded message from Marc Rotenberg -----

Sameer Parekh					Voice:   510-986-8770
President					FAX:     510-986-8777

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