The idea of requiring E-rate program recipients to install filtering software returned to the forefront June 27

The idea of requiring E-rate program recipients to install filtering software returned to the forefront June 27 as the Senate passed conflicting amendments to address the concern.

By a vote of 95-3, the Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, that would require a school or library that receives E-rate discounts to certify that it has "selected a technology for its computers with Internet access in order to filter or block" content that is considered obscene or featuring child pornography and that it is "enforcing a policy to ensure the operation of the technology during any use of such computers by minors."

Under the McCain amendment, schools would be required to submit the certification within 30 days of the effective date of the law or would be required to reimburse telecommunications carriers that provided discounted services to the school by the amount the school had received since the effective date of the bill. Libraries would be required to certify that they have installed the software on computers that are used by minors. The bill defines a minor as anyone under the age of 17.

After approving the McCain amendment as part of its consideration of the appropriations bill that covers the Education Department, along with the Labor and Health and Human Services departments, the Senate approved a conflicting amendment, sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-PA, and endorsed by a variety of education and library associations. The Santorum amendment, which passed by a vote of 75-24, would give schools and libraries the option of adopting an acceptable use policy instead of installing filtering software. It would also require schools and libraries to address the use of e-mail and chat rooms by minors, "hacking" by minors and unauthorized disclosure, use or dissemination of personal information about minors. The Santorum proposal would apply to schools and libraries seeking E-rate support on or after July 1, 2001.

During the debate, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, opposed the McCain bill, saying he was concerned about turning the Federal Communications Commission into "a national censorship office, with the responsibility of both policing local enforcement of the Internet access policy and exacting punishment in the form of ordering E-rate discounts to stop and carriers be reimbursed."

McCain contended that by not requiring schools and libraries to install filtering software, the Santorum measure "provides what is essentially a status quo loophole."

The conflicts will eventually have to be resolved by a conference of House and Senate members. Last year, some filtering requirements were approved as part of a juvenile justice bill, but the two chambers could never resolve their differences over the parent legislation.