Kent Stuckey, corporate counsel for H&R Block Co.’s CompuServe
Kent Stuckey, corporate counsel for H&R Block Co.’s CompuServe Inc., calls the Net ``the great unknown,″ and says his company can do little more than warn users they may stumble upon tawdry material. ``We don’t attempt in any way to protect them,″ he says. ``It’s impossible.″
Others see a technological solution. Some services, including America Online, have a crude sort of filter that makes it harder to stumble upon Internet bulletin boards such as alt.sex.bestiality and alt.binaries.pictures.erotica. Some universities screen out any board whose name includes ``alt″ (alternative, or chatty, nonacademic subjects) or ``sex.″
The Center for Democracy and Technology, a new nonprofit civil-liberties group based in Washington, is trying to drum up interest among on-line services for creating more sophisticated filters that users could customize. The filters would read coded information at the beginning of each electronic feature and decide if it fits standards set by each customer.
``You could have the Pat Robertson rating system, the Motion Picture rating system, the Playboy rating system,″ says the group’s founder, Jerry Berman, former director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
That civil liberties group, meanwhile, is pushing the idea of ``cybercourts.″ These would be outside arbitrators who would resolve disputes over sexual materials, defamation and copyright violations. David R. Johnson, the foundation’s chairman, said putting standardized labels on electronic messages runs counter to the Internet’s decentralized nature.
But Mr. Berman said it may be the only way to head off government controls. ``This threat is real, and there has to be an overarching response,″ he said.