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Cyber Patrol Examined

  • Blocked sites -- apparent evidence that Cyber Patrol does not review all sites in their database before blocking them
  • The CyberNOT search engine -- Cyber Patrol publishes a Web page where the user can supposedly type in a URL to see if it's blocked, but for most blocked sites, the form returns incorrect information, saying the site is "not blocked"
  • Double standards -- identical content that is considered "hate speech" when published by some organizations, but not others
  • Secret lists -- controversy over why Cyber Patrol's list of blocked sites is not published
  • How to contact Cyber Patrol with questions about the information presented here

Blocked sites

One of the first blocking programs on the market, Cyber Patrol was released in 1995 and has been the subject of controversy ever since, beginning with a November 1995 press release from GLAAD listing gay rights Web pages blocked by Cyber Patrol. In May 2000, the controversy came full circle when Peacefire anonymously created several "anti-gay" Web pages and submitted them for review, and Cyber Patrol agreed to block the pages as "hate speech", even though each page consisted only of anti-gay quotes taken from the Web site of a prominent conservative group such as the Family Research Council. (When we revealed what we had done, Cyber Patrol declined to block the sites that were the sources of the quotes we used.)

But one statement which Cyber Patrol has consistently made, is that sites are always reviewed by employees before being blocked by Cyber Patrol, to ensure that the sites meet their criteria:

This list of inappropriate sites, called the CyberNOT list, has been compiled by a team of professional researchers which over the last five years has reviewed more than one million Web pages. The researchers look at every site, seeking to assure that the filtered material meets the published criteria defining what content is unsuitable for kids.
- press release, October 26, 2000
Sites on the CyberNOT List are designated down to the file directory. This means that appropriate material at an Internet address need not be blocked simply because there is some restricted material elsewhere at the address.

However, Peacefire has found numerous examples of sites which seem to contradict that claim. Some of the sites blocked by Cyber Patrol are listed in two of our reports, Amnesty Intercepted (about human rights groups whose sites were blocked by blocking software) and Blind Ballots (about candidates in the 2000 elections whose sites were blocked). Amnesty International Israel and "Lloyd Doggett for Congress" were among the sites that we found blocked by Cyber Patrol.

We also tested the first 1,000 .com domains in an alphabetical list, to see which domains were blocked by Cyber Patrol, and found that 81% of the sites blocked were errors. The errors were not borderline cases, such as artistic nude photography sites; they were sites like that did not have anything conceivably offensive on them. If out of every 1,000 ".com" domains on the Web, approximately 17 are incorrectly blocked by Cyber Patrol, then with over 14,000,000 .com domains in existence, the total number of incorrectly blocked domains would be about 230,000 in the ".com" namespace alone (not even counting blocked sites in .org or .net).

Cyber Patrol's Web page gives detailed descriptions of the 12 categories used for classifying Web sites to be blocked, and the procedures by which their Oversight Committee reviews sites. But in spite of these statements, in a cross-section of sites blocked by Cyber Patrol, 81% of the sites still had no offensive content.

Double standards

Cyber Patrol gives the following criteria for blocking a site as "hate speech":

Pictures or text advocating prejudice or discrimination against any race, color, national origin, religion, disability or handicap, gender, or sexual orientation. Any picture or text that elevates one group over another. Also includes intolerant jokes or slurs.

In May 2000, Peacefire anonymously created several "anti-gay" Web pages on free sites such as GeoCities, each site consisting entirely of quotes taken from the Web site of a prominent conservative group such as Focus on the Family. Using anonymous HotMail accounts, we submitted each of these pages to Cyber Patrol for review, and Cyber Patrol agreed to block each of these pages as "hate speech".

We then told Cyber Patrol that four prominent right-wing Web sites were the sources of all the anti-gay quotes on the four Web sites that we created, and asked whether those sites would be blocked as well. Cyber Patrol did not respond, and did not block the four conservative groups' home pages.

The archives of our correspondence with Cyber Patrol during this experiment, and the records of where we found the quotes used to create the anti-gay "bait" pages, are online at

How to contact Cyber Patrol

You can reach Cyber Patrol sales at (800) 828-2608, or technical support at (508) 870-7200. If you leave a message to talk with someone, we recommend not mentioning anything about "Peacefire"; reporters have told us that if they leave a message with Cyber Patrol, and they tell Cyber Patrol that they are calling to ask about information from the Peacefire site, their calls usually don't get returned.