Court rules Harvard researcher does not have First Amendment right to decode Internet filter program

A lawsuit to protect a Harvard University researcher from being sued for decodingan Internet filtering program and publishing its list of blocked Web sites wasdismissed by a U.S. district court on April 9.

Benjamin Edelman sought adeclaratory judgment to protect his claim that the First Amendment gives him theright to bypass the measures that protect access to the comprehensive list ofWeb sites blocked by N2H2’s Internet filtering software and to publish hisfindings.

N2H2 holds the largest market-share among companies thatproduce Internet filtering technology and its software is used in schools andlibraries nationwide. Under the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act,secondary and elementary schools are required to install Internet filteringtechnology in order to receive federal subsidies for Internetaccess.

Edelman, who filed the lawsuit in his first year as a law studentat Harvard University, said that decoding N2H2’s software is necessary to trulydetermine what Web sites might be blocked from school computers.

“Bydelegating the decision as to what Web sites are pornographic to a company likeN2H2, the schools are losing the ability to make that decision on their own andto make sure the decision is made as accurately as is possible,” Edelmansaid.

David Burt, spokesperson for N2H2, said the license is standard forthe industry. He said the list of blocked sites is N2H2’s intellectual propertyand needs to remain encoded. “We have spent literally tens of millions ofdollars creating that list. It’s very expensive and labor intensive and acompetitor could come along and take it.”

In granting N2H2’S motion todismiss, the court found that there was “no plausibly protected constitutionalinterest that Edelman can assert that outweighs N2H2’s right to protect itscopyrighted property from an invasive and destructive trespass.”

Edelmansaid he has not made a decision as to whether he will appeal theruling.