September 19, 1997 1:40 PM PDT

Sites call for censorship awareness

As Banned Books Week kicks off Monday, the Internet and the blocking software used to prevent children from accessing adult content will be focal points for the event.

A dozen or more sites, including the American Library Association and Book Stacks Unlimited, plan to offer content recognizing the event, mostly by offering information about books that have been banned in the past and by calling attention to book censorship they say still exists.

"We really felt strongly about the topic and wanted to go full force in taking a look at what?s going on today," said Jenna Schnuer, senior editor at BookWire, an online site that provides reviews and information about books. In addition to providing a historical timeline charting banned books in the United States, the site will offer essays on censorship from popular authors.

Among the authors is Linda Jaivin, whose book Eat Me caused one popular Web filtering program to block a bookstore?s site. The software, called Cyber Patrol, is designed to help parents keep their children from accessing sexually explicit material online. But when the Booksmith, a San Francisco bookseller, featured information about Jaivin?s book, Cyber Patrol blocked access to the store?s entire Web site.

A spokeswoman for Cyber Patrol said the company has since taken the Booksmith off its list of blocked sites, except for the store?s erotica section, adding that it was a "technical mistake" rather than a judgment about Booksmith?s site as a whole that led the site to be completely blocked in the first place.

But that doesn?t stop critics from claiming that Cyber Patrol and similar programs are a threat to free expression in cyberspace.

"Most of [the programs] won?t include a list of all the sites they?re filtering," said Shari Steel, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates civil liberties in cyberspace. "There is a real risk of the software running amok."

The spokeswoman for Cyber Patrol, however, said that fear is overblown. "The truth is, there are only a few companies that have a very extensive list of sites that are inappropriate for children," said Cyber Patrol?s spokeswoman, Sydney Rubin, adding that a great deal of time and money has been put into compiling it. "When you have a list like this, it?s proprietary."

Even though the company refuses to disclose the list, users are free to see if a particular site is blocked by visiting a page on Cyber Patrol?s Web site, she added.

She further countered that Cyber Patrol can be modified to allow up to ten children access to different sites.

Other sites devoting space to banned books starting Monday include the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

 

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