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UBC prof condemns web filters
By Paul-Mark Rendon
Freedom of access to information is violated if internet browsers are filtered, according to a University of British Columbia professor.
Richard Rosenberg, a computer science professor at UBC, said he was against the use of internet filters on public computers because they unlawfully restrict access to information.
Speaking at a conference this past weekend, Rosenberg explained how filters red-flag certain words, such as "sex" or "breast," to prevent users from browsing inappropriate web sites.
Although he was not against placing filters on private computers, Rosenberg stated he was against them in libraries. "My position is fairly strongly against them in public places," he said.
He explained filters using keywords to block out web sites inadvertently block legitimate sites. "If you're doing a scholarly search on pornography, both sites that discuss porn and those that contain explicit porn are filtered out," he said. "If you wanted to filter out the word "breast" you wouldn't be able to get information on breast cancer research. This is a really difficult problem."
Gord Hume, chair of the London Public Library Board, said the London public library system has filters in place, but only for certain computers. "In the children's section, there is some additional concern, but generally, we're not in support of [filters]," he said.
But Rosenberg argued filters should not take the place of a parent's role in monitoring a child's internet activities. "There are numerous suggested and interesting sites. The thing to do is put your kid in a relative safe area and let them explore," he said.
Hume agreed it was a difficult issue to police, given that keywords are often changed to disguise their ultimate destination. "If you type in 'whitehouse.com,' you get a sex site, but if you type in 'whitehouse.org,' you get Pennsylvania Avenue," he said. "There is no filter that will filter out all the 'bad' sites."
Mary Ann Mavrinac, director of the D.B. Weldon Library, said filters are not in place at the university library. "I've thought about the issue a lot," she said. "We have no concerns. Since September of '96 we've had no problems."
She added since the library's 300 workstations are in public areas, this works to deter individuals from accessing inappropriate sites. "I'd be really loath in entering into some sort of blocking filter. There's no need," she said.
However, second-year kinesiology student Saira Saleh said the filters are a must for young children who could easily stumble onto inappropriate websites. "For children, it's a good idea to limit what they can see because they're really impressionable."
Heather Porter, a first-year science student agreed. "If it's kids that are doing the research, parents should still put restrictions on what their kids can do," she said.
According to Hume, the London Public Library Board reviews its policy twice a year and ensures computers are posted with warnings to inform users of any possible mature content as they browse the internet.