CeePrompt! Computer Connection


Cathi Schuler

Originally published Monday, July 7, 1997

Software keeping Internet secure

It's been all good news for the Internet recently. On June 26, the Supreme Court affirmed the Internet as a free speech medium and ruled unanimously that the Communications Decency Act violates the First Amendment.

Representing the court, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "the CDA places an unacceptably heavy burden on protected speech" and found that all provisions of the CDA are unconstitutional as they apply to "indecent" or "patently offensive" speech.

Even President Clinton, who signed the CDA into law as part of his sweeping Telecommunications Act of 1996, last week backed down and conceded that" unnecessary regulation could cripple the growth and diversity of the Internet." In unveiling the "Framework for Global Electronic Commerce," the Clinton administration declared its support for "self-rule" on the Internet and vowed to work with industry leaders on such issues as privacy, security and protection of intellectual property rights.

This is by no means a signal: "Hail all, the debauchery will now begin!"

The online community is more committed than ever to self-policing and providing the public with the tools necessary to protect minors from pornography, violence and other objectionable content on the Internet.

Security and content filtering options are already built into the Microsoft Explorer 3.0 browser, although still fairly crude. Both Microsoft and Netscape promise improved filtering features in their next generation browsers, Explorer4.0 and Netscape Communicator.

Net Shepherd is a good example of a stand-alone program that enables you to control the content that users can access on the World Wide Web. This program is easy to install and configure and the download from their web site
http://www.netshepherd.com is quick and painless. Re-booting after installation puts Net Shepherd immediately on duty, vigilantly monitoring all web surfing.

Someone must be designated as the Net Shepherd Administrator with a password that will allow only the Administrator to set up additional users and designate access privileges. It is this feature that I like most about Net Shepherd in that multiple levels of access can be established as appropriate for the various users in the household or business environment.

Each user then simply logs on to Net Shepherd and the accessed Internet content is filtered according to the pre-established discretion of the Administrator.

The software allows the administrator to select from one of six access categories that range from General, content appropriate for all age groups, to Objectionable, content would be objectionable to any age group. In between are categories for Child, Teen, Pre-Teen and Adult.

If no user logs on, then "Guest" is designated as the default and is limited to the General level of restriction. Even if the "Guest" window is closed, the watchful sentry stands guard over all web browsing. If a user tries to access any web site deemed inappropriate, Net Shepherd politely informs the user "Sorry! The page you've requested has a rating that does not match the access level of your Net Shepherd account." The Administrator has the additional authority to change the default category settings of any site thereby allowing the ability to make personal choices about content propriety.

Net Shepherd as well as other filtering software utilize a database and rating system that is PICS compliant. PICS is the Platform for Internet Content Selection that is becoming the standard for web site authors and software developers committed to making the Internet safe for all users.

Net Shepherd boasts the largest ratings and reviews database of English language Internet sites in the world. "As of March 1997, Net Shepherd Inc. had rated 97 percent of the English language sites on the Internet as indexed by the AltaVista Search engine."

Net Shepherd Inc. of Canada has recently teamed up with AltaVista and will soon be offering a search engine that filters results based their categorical system. Currently, a search on AltaVista returns every match, but with NetShepherd only those matches deemed appropriate for the user will be returned.

This joint venture between online companies is just one example of the Internet community's resolve to making the Internet safe and useful for all participants. The cyberspace community very much enjoys their decentralized system of non-government and is as committed to making it secure for all netizens as they are to preserving their First Amendment rights.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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