Patrice Riemens on Thu, 29 Jul 1999 20:09:29 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> FW: BESS software exposed, contradicts CEO's Congressional testimony (fwd)

-----Original Message-----
From: Bennett Haselton []
Sent: Wednesday, July 28, 1999 22:42

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July 28, 1999 -- Censorware Project releases "Passing Porn, Banning the
Bible: N2H2's Bess in Public Schools"

BESS, a program sold by Internet filtering company N2H2 to public schools
and libraries, was examined recently by the Censorware Project
(  The Censorware Project found not only that BESS
failed to block a large number of X-rated sites, but also blocked a large
number of innocuous sites that were obviously not reviewed by a human
before being blocked.  This last discovery could prove the most
controversial, given that the CEO of N2H2 recently testified before
Congress that all sites blocked by N2H2 were subject to human review
first, and such errors as highlighted in the report essentially could not

Among the sites blocked by BESS are a psychiatrist's association
(, Mother Jones magazine, two Australian ISP's
( and, a baseball
newsletter (, sections of Time
Magazine (, and political groups such as
Feminists Against Censorship (  Since
the list of sites blocked by BESS is not disclosed to their customers, no
one knows exactly how many sites blocked by BESS are obviously in error --
but the samples contained in the report were gleaned from "links list" and
"bookmark files" kept by Censorware Project members, representing only a
tiny fraction of the Web.  Extrapolating the same rate of error to the
rest of the Web, the numbers of "safe sites" blocked by BESS would be in
the hundreds of thousands! 

These sites, and other examples in the report, were obviously not reviewed
by any human beings before being added to BESS's list of blocked sites. 
In March 1999, however, Peter Nickerson, CEO of N2H2, testified before
Congress that "All sites are reviewed by N2H2 staff before being added to
the block list.  [Perception of censorware as flawed or unusable is] naive
and based largely on problems associated with early versions of
client-based software that were admittedly crude and ineffective."  Mr. 
Nickerson was testifying to Congress in support of laws that would require
schools to purchase blocking software such as BESS. 

The BESS servers tested by the Censorware Project also did *not* block a
large number of obviously pornographic sites like and, even sites that have
existed for months and can be found under listings in Yahoo's "sex" 

The full report, "Passing Porn, Banning the Bible: N2H2's Bess in public
schools", can be accessed at:
and the text of the Censorware Project's press release is at:

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