Filters not Censors for WWW

David J. Bianco (
Fri, 2 Dec 1994 13:33:38 -0500

Brian Farrar writes:
> Somehow we have strayed *far* afield from my original intention when I wrote
> my "browser based filter" missive. First of all it seems we have wandered
> into the minefield of censorship (which is given excellent coverage in any
> number of mailing lists).
> I thought the basis of the discussion was more aimed at the following:
> given the fact that many people want to use the WWW, and of those people
> some of them will find material that assaults their sensibilities,
> how can information continue to flow freely across the net for those that are
> not so faint of heart, while "protecting" the more fragile.
> Proxy's clearly are not the answer to this set of criteria. First, such a proxy
> can only be administered for a group not an individual (in most cases). Thus,
> even the most benevolent gate master is making content type decisions for
> the rest of the "gated".

Actually, this is an implementation detail which really doesn't
invalidate the statement that proxies can be good filters. I can
easily imagine a sitewide filter which allows users to set their own
preferences, rather than some defaults. I can also easily imagine
scenarios why sites would wish to block access globally to all their

> And as Simon points out, site based filters can and
> would
> be circumvented.

Since you seem to be asking for voluntary filtering anyway (the user
gets to set his filtering criteria) circumvention of the filter is
probably OK. It just amounts to "don't filter anything" which is
certainly a valid criteria.

> The theory behind my browser filter idea was that the information is stopped
> *only*
> by the individual at his own "doorstep".

Actually, if you're going to stop the information flow, it makes sense
to try to stop it as close to the source as possible. I wouldn't want
to transfer a long page through a slow PPP link, for example, only to
find that when it got there it was considered not suitable for
viewing. I'd prefer the proxy, running on a well connected host, to
do that for me. I'd get much quicker response that way.

Of course, there's no easy answer to the question of "Should it be
done?" I guess it depends on circumstance. My employer, for example,
certainly has the right to limit what I can and can't see, while my
internet provider probably doesn't. And we won't even mention the
number of different technical approaches. Proxies won't work for some
people, and they'll work great for others. It's all a matter of

David J. Bianco Chair, NASA Webmasters Working Group
Computer Sciences Corporation,
NASA Langley Research Center Personal Info: