Vice President Al Gore
276 Old Executive Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20501
Dear Vice President Gore:
We write to express our increasing concern over your public statements about children and the Internet, and specifically your endorsement of something called the "Parents’ Protection Page," as a "public-private partnership" to facilitate Internet censorship.
Government can play an important role in providing educational information to maximize the public’s ability to use technological tools like the Internet. For example, the Department of Education and the FBI provide valuable information, which parents may access on a voluntary basis, to assist in supervising their children’s Internet use.
In contrast, according to your description the Parents’ Protection Page "will appear on virtually every Internet starting point automatically….right there, staring you in the face every time you turn the computer on." Its purpose is to induce parents to "play an aggressive, proactive role in protecting their children on the Internet" by installing tools to block, filter, and monitor their children’s Internet activities.
The deficiencies in blocking and filtering software are well-recognized and documented. Such devices are over and under-inclusive, employ subjective judgments, exclude a great deal of useful information, and often conceal both the criteria for blocking and information about what material is blocked. Many responsible parents, teachers, librarians, and other caring adults recognize these deficiencies and opt instead for educating young people. Along with teaching children not to talk to strangers and to cross with the light, they also instruct children in personal safety online. Instead of spying on their children, they might try to engage them in conversation, be sensitive to their concerns, and create a relationship based on mutual trust.
The killings in Littleton were a dreadful tragedy to the people directly involved, and deeply disturbing to the rest of us. But it is wrong and cruel to herald the Parents’ Protection Page as a solution, to blame the Internet as a causative agent in these events, or to suggest that such tragedies could be averted just by installing a device on the computer.
Oversimplifying the causes and cures for teenage violence is dangerous business, as demonstrated by the increasing number of young people who have been ejected from school and even arrested for saying or doing something deemed "threatening" – but who have neither actually threatened nor harmed anyone. It would be doubly tragic if the deaths in Littleton unleashed a torrent of irrationality and scapegoating, but no effective inquiry into the real indicators and precursors of teenage violence. We hope that you will provide leadership, sorely lacking from the current public debate, that will help restore rationality and balance to this discussion.
Joan E. Bertin
National Coalition Against Censorship