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EFFector - Volume 10, Issue 3 - EFF Online Filtration/Ratings/Labelling Public Interest Principles


EFFector - Volume 10, Issue 3 - EFF Online Filtration/Ratings/Labelling Public Interest Principles

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EFFector        Vol. 10, No. 03        Feb. 28, 1997
A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation        ISSN 1062-9424


EFF Online Filtration/Ratings/Labelling Public Interest Principles
Quote of the Day
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Subject: EFF Online Filtration/Ratings/Labelling Public Interest Principles 


                      PUBLIC INTEREST PRINCIPLES 

Public Discussion Draft            Version 1.0b            Feb. 28, 1997

Please submit comments or questions to, with "FILTER DRAFT"
in the subject line, by March 31, 1997 if possible. This draft should not
be redistributed beyond March 31, 1997. The latest version can be found at

This document is a DRAFT, and should not be quoted or paraphrased as a
final statement of position, policy or opinion.

If your organization wishes to endorse this document please send a message
to that effect to or fax: +1 415 436 9333.


As the Internet and other computer networking technologies increasingly
become intertwined in the daily lives of a large number of people,
concerns are frequently raised about locating relevant online material
in a sea of data, preventing the exposure of minors to sexually explicit
expression, ensuring that paid online work time is spent productively,
and avoiding racist, sexist or otherwise offensive electronic messages.

A market in competing and complementary filtration solutions has arisen to
address these concerns, empowering the individual to manage the "firehose"
of information available in cyberspace - as well as manage employee
online time on the job, or children's access to controversial information.
These tools range from email sorting utilities, through specially filtered
sites for children (that provide links to only pre-reviewed material), to
applications and services that track employee Web browsing. Soon, search
engines and "intelligent" agents may also incorporate aspects of
filtration or content labelling.

Even as these new technologies empower users, parents, and employers,
they pose unique conundrums, involving participant privacy, freedom of
expression, and intellectual property among other issues. Many questions
are raised: "Who's watching and recording what?"  "What happens to my
personal information when I send it to a filtering site?"  "Who decides
whether a site is to be blocked by this filtering software I use?"

Although many benefits accrue to individual control over Internet content
at the receiving end, the technolgies that make this possible also pose
several risks for users, on all sides.

The principle areas of concern are:

* protection of end-user privacy;

* ability of parents to understand, and to select in detail, what is

* protection of intellectual property rights;

* maintenance of the integrity of information;

* viability of positive as well as negative filtration tools;

* prevention of a system of self-censorship;

* ability of content providers to challenge inappropriate blockage or
inaccurate ratings/labels.

These concerns may be addressed by applying core online principles of
trust, and more specific guidelines for filtrations/ratings/labelling

Core Online Trust Principles

EFF has developed a set of core principles for the implementation and
operation of rights-affecting networking technologies, necessary to
establish a base level of consumer and organizational trust in privacy,
security, and free flow of information online:

* Informed Consent Is Necessary

  Consumers have the right to be informed about the privacy, security,
  intellectual property and intellectual freedom consequences of an online
  transaction or activity, BEFORE entering into one.

* There Is No Privacy Without Security

  System security is inexorably linked with privacy - and protection of
  intellectual property rights - in an online interaction.

* Standards Vary According to Context

  No single narrow standard or policy, regarding free speech, privacy,
  or security, is adequate for all situations, or for all participants.

Guidelines for Implementation of Internet Filters and Ratings/Labelling

1)  Users' Information Privacy - Disclosure and Op-Out from Personal
    Information Use and Re-Use

* The filtration provider must inform the user of what personally
  identifiable information on the user is being  kept and of the use of
  this information (including use by the filtration provider, and/or by
  any intermediary such as educational institution or employer), whether
  or not the information will be made available and in what form to other
  parties, to whom, and for what purpose.

* Users must have the right to opt out of any outside third party use of
  personally identifiable information, and to restrict use and
  redistribution of that information by such outside parties.

* Intermediaries must have the right to opt the intermediary and the user
  out of outside party use, and out of marketing use by the service

2)  Children's Information Privacy - Protection of Identity and
    Confidentiality of Minor Status

* The product or service should never reveal that the browsing/posting
  user is a minor, nor reveal any personally identifiable information
  publicly or to outside parties, without the intermediary's knowledge and
  consent.  A child's browsing or other preferences or habits should not
  be made available to outside parties in a personally identifiable
  manner at all

* Private information such as address or phone number should
  not be released to outside parties without the written and informed
  consent of the parent.

Notes: Already, the US Congress and Federal Trade Commission,
and other governmental bodies around the world are examining
possible regulatory measures to prevent marketing with personal
information about children, and to restrict the collection and
redistribution of such information. As with the "L-18" user
identification system proposed by the Dept. of Justice in the
Communications Decency Act trial - a proposal rejected by the
court - the "broadcasting" of an online child's age or even their
status as a minor may make it easier for abusive individuals to
target children.

3)  Availability of Default Content & Filtration Criteria and Operational

* An explanation of the filtering or rating criteria, and the values or 
  principles underling them, must be accessible easily and without fee to
  customers and content providers, in enough detail to make meaningful

* Customers must be informed especially as to whether the filtration
  may block political/social discussion, news reportage, literature,
  art, or scientific/reference works, as well as presumed targets (e.g. 
  explicit images, private "chat" sessions, email, or advertising.)
  It must be clear whether blocking is based on topic, keywords, and/or
  other distinctions, and how broadly it may reach.

* Customers must also be informed of the limitations of the
  software/service - what it does NOT filter, what it cannot prevent - and
  generally how the filtering works (respective of trade secret &
  proprietary information, of course.)

4)  Notice of Active Filtration and Tracking

* User tracking, such as "click-stream" information or "audit trails",
  should be an option (if offered at all), not a default. 

* If any tracking is enabled and information on the user's browsing or
  other Net use (including anything from a list of sites to full-text log,
  on either the customer's own system, or held by the filtration service
  provider) is available for review by a parent, an intermediary or an
  outside party the user should be notified during use or sign-on that
  their usage is being monitored and may be reviewed, and by whom. This
  notice should come before any connection attempt or other online
  activity is logged or processed, and may be shown more frequently to
  give better notice.

* If the service or software does not provide such notice to the user,
  then it also must not provide an on-site or off-site audit trail or other
  form of log available to a parent or employer (nor to outside parties
  without a court order.)  Audit trail or other tracking information must
  never be available to the public without explicit written permission of
  the user.

* If a site, session or document is blocked, some kind of notice should
  appear explaining why, regardless of whether or not the session is being

Notes: As filters become more common both in the home and the workplace,
several concerns arise about "secret monitoring".  Users of any age
deserve the same notification of loss of privacy online as they do when
their phone conversations are recorded. Children's and teens' physical
safety, even their lives, may be at stake in some cases.

Examples: Proper notice might consist of pop-up screens that tell the
user at the beginning of a session that their Net browsing is being
recorded, and that their parents or employers will have access to a list
of what sites or newsgroups the user has been reading. This reminder
might reappear every half-hour or so. On the other hand, a simple email
filter that sorts incoming messages into content-relevant mailboxes,
discarding any emails with profanities in the process, might give no
notice (other than logging what it had done).  Level and detail of notice
is dependent upon potential negative privacy impact on the user.

5)  Customer Choice and Control

* The customer should be able to configure what is being filtered, such
  as by a user-friendly means of adjusting defaults for filtration/ratings
  categories, by selectively adding or deleting specific new sites or
  keywords, by turning on or off topics to filter for, or by swapping
  entire sets of filtration criteria, as examples.

* Customers should not be placed in the position of purchasing someone
  else's morality or preferences for lack of ability to customize or make 
  meaningful choices. Instead, they need tools that help them filter
  out material they do not find appropriate.

Notes: Systems based on the Platform for Internet Content Selection
(PICS) are already compliant with this principle, as PICS allows for
multiple ratings systems from which the user may select, provided that 
more than one label bureau is available.

6)  Appeal Process, Public Access, and Integrity of Personal Information

* Creators, moderators and/or owners of sites or other resources rated,
  filtered or otherwise negatively impacted should have a means of appeal
  within the organization doing the filtration, labelling or rating, to
  review the appropriateness of the decision to block/filter that site,
  to review the accuracy or breadth of an human-assigned label or
  rating, and/or to review the actions of an automated filter or other
  function that blocks that site or document.  The filtering/rating party
  should treat such concerns seriously and help to resolve conflicts when

* Additionally, providers have a responsibility to verify information.
  Others must have a right to correct any wrong information about them,
  and to have suggested corrections of general fact considered seriously.
  One of the most serious problems inherent in the computerization of
  records and other information is the wild propagation of errors once
  they are introduced. Providers should have a well-thought-out published
  policy for dealing with such errors rapidly and fairly, with benefit of
  the doubt adhering to the person about whom the information may be

* The full results of such reviews of claims of errors or of mislabelling
  or improper filtration should be made available to the filtered-out
  party and to the public after the complaint is handled, and not covered
  by non-disclosure or other restriction from consumer examination.
  When possible, parties should seek arbitration, rather than recourse to
  legal machinery.

7)  Intellectual Property and Integrity of Content

* Filtering, labelling and rating should not modify source material.
  Filtered material should simply be blocked, or otherwise dealt with per
  customer preference, intact, with any ratings or labels appearing in
  frames, menu bars, headers, pop-up windows, or distinct and clearly
  attributed lead-ins to the presented content.

Notes: "Four-letter words" should not be replaced by "****", and
proxy-like watchdog servers should not insert rating icons into the
HTML code or other content of rated materials. Such practices abuse the
material owner's copyright (in particular, the right to control the
production of derivative works), and opens the filtration provider to
liabilty. Such alterations may also lead to incorrect reportage or
citation, false attributions of quoted material, misinterpretation, and
other problems.

8)  Open Expression Without Self-Censorship

* Content control systems must not place a heavy burden on content
  authors. In particular, a self-rating/labelling system must be
  sufficiently simple to implement and use that it does not interfere
  with content production,  or result in self-censorship to avoid the toil
  of labelling content. Under no circumstances should any such system be
  imposed by governments, or by private-sector parties such as
  Internet service providers, under government pressure.

* Self-labelling schemes logically apply only to comparatively static
  documents such as web pages, not to content of a conversational nature,
  such as live "chat" or postings to newsgroups and other forums of a
  fluid nature.  In such cases, the forum as a whole, not each post or
  momentary expression in it, could be rated, labelled or filtered.

* Filtration and labeling schemes must be designed carefully, with an
  eye to avoiding monopolization that can lead to chilling of free
  expression or barriers to access for all but the influential or those
  willing to comply with a particular labelling scheme.

9)  Positive as Well as Negative Filtration

* When feasible, content control services should make efforts to not only
  block material offensive to their customers, but also provide active
  pointers to material these users will appreciate.

Notes: Though concerns about inappropriate material have sped up the
development of filtration and labelling technology, the initial seed, and
logical culmination, of such efforts is the search for a solution a much
longer standing problem: the difficulty of finding relevant information
in a staggeringly complex and vast flux of data.  Working on this larger
problem simultaneously moves the Internet community away from hype and
fearmongering, helps the evolution of the Internet into a user-friendly
knowledge tool for everyone, and does something active and constructive
for everyone, as well something passive for those for whom the
availability of inappropriate content remains a focus.

10) Contextual, Factual, Cultural Sensitivity

* Content control systems must consider among the rating/labelling/blocking
  criteria, whenver possible, the context in which the material is found,
  and whether it is presented as fact or fiction, textual or graphical,
  advocacy or reportage, etc.

* Content control systems must take into account whenever possible the
  literary, artistic, journalistic, educational or other value of the
  material to be labelled, rated or blocked.

* Local standards should be taken into account, as mores and preferences
  vary from culture to culture. A system implementing the values of a
  particular subset of one culture may be rationally inapplicable on a
  global scale, or even on a local scale elsewhere.

Notes: "Hell" in the context of a religious discussion is not very similar
to the more offensive use of such a term as an expletive.  Similarly, if
the word "gay" or images of violent conflict appear in a news report, this
should probably not be filtered out by a system that blocks access to
"alternative lifestyle" or "violent" material, unless the customer
specifically requests that such material also be blocked or the
filtering/rating system is intended to be and is disclosed as very
restrictive. Most users, including parents, draw a sharp distinction
between material that advocates or visually displays behavior they find
distasteful, and journalism or political discussion about topics in
general.  There is a severe danger of misuse of parental empowerment
technology for entirely opposite ends, facilitated by censorship of
political, journalistic and other material under the rhetoric of "safety".
Already several public libraries are having filtration softare imposed
upon them by local goverment with political agendas to restrict access to
information. The constitutionality of these actions is highly

11) Individual and Academic Self-Determination

* Government and semi-governmental entities must refrain from imposing a
  requirement for self-ratings, assigning private-sector sites particular
  labels, or mandating the use of filtration software.  Any attempt to do
  so is sheer censorship, consisting of forced silence, coerced speech,
  denial of access, or restraint of publication.

* In particular, censorship of online access in libraries and other public
  places must be avoided, and filtration must not be the default for
  public Internet terminals any more than hiding of "mature" books may be
  a default in public libraries.  Public libraries must not reduce
  adult patrons to reading online only what has passed filtration as
  appropriate for children.

* Student's freedom of speech and press, and the rights of libraries and
  library patrons, as forumlated in statute, case law, constitutions and
  UN treaty, apply fully in the context of online media, not simply paper
  and vocal speech.

* The decision to use filtration of online material in the classroom or 
  children's reading room - and what to filter - must rest with the
  teacher or librarian, with no more control by administrators than that
  excercized over what paper handouts teachers may use in class or what
  books may be checked out by children. 

* That libraries can in some cases legally excerise content-based
  discretion in what materials they make available does not in and of
  itself constitute a reason to do so with online material, nor does it
  imply a legislative or executive governmental prerogative to make
  or influence those decisions. Likewise, that libraries may protect
  valuable or fragile paper works by allowing their use only on special
  request, does not indicate that the reverse, "protecting" library
  patrons from materials that may be offensive to some, is appropriate.
  Libraries must not block online material, then require adults to ask for
  a key, password or special permission to access it.
* The decisions of a teacher or librarian in this area, as in others,
  should be based on their own criteria, with input from the community
  where appropriate, and not controlled by the political priorities of
  administrators, or of executive or legislative government. The role of
  teachers and librarians is to provide access to information, knowledge
  and critical thinking, not to act as online content police.

* Similarly, network service providers must not require users to rate or
  label their own material or submit to the editorial control of others.
  Government must not coerce or pressure service providers into providing
  content control technology, or require users to participate in
  content control systems.  

* Removing from distribution users' materials or otherwise taking action
  against users based on disagreement with how they self-rate is
  indefensible, and logically incompatible with the notion of a
  self-rating system.

12) Prevention of Centralization and National Filters

* Content filtration defaults must not be built into publicly available
  hardware or operating systems, since market dominance by a particular
  manufacturer, or adoption by governments, could virtually destroy
  free flow of information on the global Internet.

* Filtration service providers must take care not to put into place or
  enable the creation of centralized storehouses of personally
  identifiable user preferences or other transactional and private

* No filtration, ratings, or other content control system should be
  designed specifically for government usage to censor a populace. It is
  insufficient justification that a government may have laws against
  material that is legal in other parts of the world and accessible
  online. Companies providing such technology to the public must not
  design it to be intentionally easy to abuse in censoring the public,
  and should consciously design their products or services to be difficult
  to scale to such misuses.

Notes: As of recent revisions, PICS does NOT appear to be compliant
with this principle.

13) Consensus and Standards

* Designers and providers of content control technology are encouraged
  to participate in the formulation of open platform, public standards.

* In the case of proprietary solutions, care must be taken not to
  undermine public standards, even in the name of extending them.

Notes: Open, participatory standardization efforts will increase
justified public trust in the technology and the online environment by 
helping prevent monopolization, the institution of censorship-prone flawed
systems, intellectual property disputes that hold up market progress, and
many other problems.

14) Balance of Rights

* Providers must be mindful of the rights of the customer and user,
  particularly privacy rights, but also of the content owner's copyright
  and freedom of speech and press.

* Intermediaries must take into account the user's right to read and to
  communicate, and to not have personal information revealed or used
  without permission.

* The user needs to be aware of intermediaries' institutional or employer
  rights, as well as the rights of other users, of content owners (e.g.,
  copyright), and of the provider (e.g., to collect aggregate,
  NON-identifiable statistical info, without consent.)

* Content owners must respect the fair use rights of users, and the
  rights of users and customers to refuse to receive content they do not
  want, as well as a labellers' or raters' rights to honestly review,
  comment on, describe, or block for their subscribers the material they
  encounter online.



Subject: Quote of the Day

"Falsehoods not only disagree with truths, but usually quarrel among
  - Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

Find yourself wondering if your privacy and freedom of speech are safe 
when bills to censor the Internet are swimming about in a sea of of 
surveillance legislation and anti-terrorism hysteria?  Worried that in 
the rush to make us secure from ourselves that our government 
representatives may deprive us of our essential civil liberties? 
Concerned that legislative efforts nominally to "protect children" will 
actually censor all communications down to only content suitable for 
the playground?  Alarmed by commercial and religious organizations abusing
the judicial and legislative processes to stifle satire, dissent and 

Join EFF! (or send any message to

Even if you don't live in the U.S., the anti-Internet hysteria will soon 
be visiting a legislative body near you.  If it hasn't already.


Subject: What YOU Can Do

* Keep and eye on your local legislature/parliament
All kinds of wacky censorious legislation is turning up at the US state 
and non-US national levels.  Don't let it sneak by you - or by the 
online activism community. Without locals on the look out, it's very 
difficult for the Net civil liberties community to keep track of what's 
happening locally as well as globally.

* Inform your corporate government affairs person or staff counsel
if you have one. Keep them up to speed on developments you learn of,
and let your company's management know if you spot an issue that warrants
your company's involvement.

* Find out who your congresspersons are

Writing letters to, faxing, and phoning your representatives in Congress
is one very important strategy of activism, and an essential way of
making sure YOUR voice is heard on vital issues.

If you are having difficulty determining who your US legislators are,
try contacting your local League of Women Voters, who maintain a great 
deal of legislator information, or consult the free ZIPPER service
that matches Zip Codes to Congressional districts with about 85%
accuracy at:

Computer Currents Interactive has provided Congress contact info, sorted 
by who voted for and against the Communications Decency Act: (NB: Some of these folks have, 
fortunately, been voted out of office.)

* Join EFF!

You *know* privacy, freedom of speech and ability to make your voice heard
in government are important. You have probably participated in our online
campaigns and forums.  Have you become a member of EFF yet?  The best way to
protect your online rights is to be fully informed and to make your
opinions heard.  EFF members are informed and are making a difference.  Join
EFF today!

For EFF membership info, send queries to, or send any
message to for basic EFF info, and a membership form.



EFFector is published by:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation
1550 Bryant St., Suite 725
San Francisco CA 94103 USA
+1 415 436 9333 (voice)
+1 415 436 9993 (fax)
Membership & donations:
Legal services:
General EFF, legal, policy or online resources queries:

Editor: Stanton McCandlish, Program Director/Webmaster (

This newsletter is printed on 100% recycled electrons.

Reproduction of this publication in electronic media is encouraged.  Signed
articles do not necessarily represent the views of EFF.  To reproduce
signed articles individually, please contact the authors for their express
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ually at will.

To subscribe to EFFector via email, send message body of "subscribe
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Back issues are available at:, /pub/EFF/Newsletters/EFFector/, 1/EFF/Newsletters/EFFector

To get the latest issue, send any message to (or, and it will be mailed to you automagically.  You can also get
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time for a copy of the current issue.  HTML editions available at: 
at EFFweb.


End of EFFector Online v10 #03 Digest


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