Internet Filter for Missouri Schools Censored LGBT Websites

Aug 10, 2011 at 11:25 am
The Trevor Project was one of at least 23 LGBT issue sites blocked by Netsweeper.
The Trevor Project was one of at least 23 LGBT issue sites blocked by Netsweeper.
Internet security software used by dozens of school districts in Missouri censored students from accessing websites dealing with LGBT issues.

The Missouri Research & Education Network (MOREnet), a division of the University of Missouri, provides Internet hosting for 86 school districts in the state, including Normandy in the St. Louis area. John Gillispie, executive director of MOREnet, tells Daily RFT that its software vendor for the past two years, Netsweeper, comes with default filters designed to censor material deemed inappropriate for children in kindergarten though 12th grade.

Those filters include blocks for erotic or sexual images, blatant pornography, computer viruses, phishing software, proxy anonymizers and one for "alternative lifestyles." It's the latter that blocked access to LGBT websites dealing with non-sexual matters, including social justice issues and emotional counseling.

"The filter ended up capturing a number of things that probably should not have been filtered," says Gillispie, whose organization deactivated the filter August 1st following notification of the issue from the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. Blocked by the filter were websites for agencies such as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); Gay-Straight Alliance, Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE); and the Trevor Project aimed at preventing suicide among LGBT teens.

Speaking to Daily RFT this morning, Anthony Rothert, legal counsel for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri commended MOREnet for acting swiftly. "We have no reason to believe that MOREnet knew what the filter blocked," says Rothert. "That said, school districts still have the ability to enable the filter if they wish, which we see as violating the First Amendment."

Rothert says he's also sent a letter to the Canadian-based Netsweeper urging it to stop setting "alternative lifestyles" as a default filter for its software. "They've reached out to us and we're going to have that conversation," he says.