Saturday, November 19, 2011

The ACLU joins the battle against blocking websites

In the digital age websites are an increasingly important source of information for everyone -- including school kids. The American Civil Liberties Union has seen an increase in the number of censorship issues in public schools that relate to websites and domains school boards find objectionable or controversial.

The ACLU'S Blog of Rights recently posted "The Freedom to Surf: Protecting Internet Access in Public Schools." Lindsey Kee, ACLU of Tennessee, details the case that sparked the group's nationwide "Don't Filter Me" campaign in conjunction with Banned Books Week last September..

Websites are an increasingly targeted component of censorship battles around the nation. Kee makes clear in the post that censorship can take a passive role as well as an active form -- as when school districts block student access to online gay and lesbian groups while permitting sites for ex-gay ministries and therapies urging sexual conversions. Here is an excerpt:

... eighty percent of Tennessee public schools used filtering software that blocked sites categorized as "LGBT." While Tennessee law requires that schools use Internet filtering software, that law is meant to protect students from information that is obscene or harmful to minors — material that was already blocked by a different filter and was not part of the "LGBT" category.

The discriminatory censorship in this case not only hurt students by making it impossible to access important material about scholarships, research for school-related assignments, and Gay-Straight Alliance club information. Students also need to be able to access information about their legal rights or what to do if they're being harassed at school, especially given the high rate of bullying and suicides among gay teens.

On May 19, 2009 ACLU-TN and ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court against Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and Knox County Schools on behalf of three students and Storts-Brinks, who was also the advisor of the school's GSA.

On June 3, Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre released a statement saying that their filters were no longer blocking the LGBT category. This change went into effect in all Tennessee and Indiana schools that used the same software. ...

Unfortunately the problem of web censorship still takes place in other school systems. The American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT Project is asking public high school students throughout the U.S. to check out your high school's web filters and help us make sure you're not being blocked from information that you have a right to have. ...

The right to information is as important to a free-thinking and knowledgeable society as any freedom Americans cherish. With the proliferation of websites and information sources, the ACLU's "Don't Filter Me" campaign is a vital part of Banned Books Week in spreading the message that internet censorship is a growing part of the targeted and selective banning of ideas.

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