Filtering Companies Unblock LGBT Sites in Response to ACLU Campaign

Posted Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - 16:14

Web-filtering software companies have responded swiftly to the American Civil Liberties Union’s “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, which calls on schools to stop blocking students’ access to websites supportive of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.

The ACLU identified six leading filtering companies: Lightspeed Systems, Blue Coat Systems, M86 Solutions, Fortiguard, Websense. and URL Blacklist. In response, Lightspeed removed its “education.lifestyles” filter, which blocked access to educational LGBT-related information, eSchool News reported June 16. The firm said it would place the sites currently in that category into a variety of different categories to ensure they were properly classified without regard to their “political or moral viewpoint.”

Fortiguard Vice President of Product Marketing Patrick Bedwell said that he hadn’t realized his company’s “homosexuality” filter blocked positive and supportive content. “We’re going to modify our operating system, and we’re going to change our filtering tools so that the explicit content is filtered out, and then the educational content that may have been filtered previously under ‘homosexuality’ is not going to be filtered,” Bedwell promised, adding that Fortiguard would also remove the filter’s entire “homosexuality” category.

“We think it is great that students in public schools across the country are getting involved in ensuring their schools and districts set their web filters up appropriately,” said Websense Senior Vice President Michael Newman. “Out of the box, Websense filtering products do not block LGBT sites, but we believe that some public school system administrators override the default setting and block LGBT sites under the mistaken impression that they need to do so in order to block adult content.”

“Websense is working to make sure that our sales and support staff are aware of these issues and how U.S. public school customers can allow access to appropriate content and block inappropriate content,” declared Newman. However, he said his company did not plan to eliminate the “gay or lesbian or bisexual interest” category, stating, “Certain private organizations have a right to allow or prohibit access according to their own determination. Websense supports private organizations’ rights to determine their own web usage policies.”