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X-Stop Examined

X-Stop was the software used by the Loudoun County, VA library to block Internet access for all patrons, leading to a victory in the first-ever First Amendment lawsuit against a library using blocking software, in 1998. The lawsuit was won largely on the basis of sites that were blocked by the software, obviously in error.

The first paper to be published criticizing X-Stop was The X-Stop Files by Jonathan Wallace, webmaster of The Ethical Spectacle and co-founder of The Censorware Project. "The X-Stop files", published on October 6, 1997, discussed X-Stop's claim that the product blocked only legally obscene material. The essay mentioned 10 blocked sites including:

Seth Finkelstein, co-founder and former member of The Censorware Project, did the work of decrypting the X-Stop blocked-site database, including finding the sites that Jonathan Wallace mentioned in his essay. Jonathan acknowledged Seth's work in nominating him for an EFF 2000 Pioneer Award (which Seth ultimately won, not that year but in 2001). Seth also wrote a companion piece to "The X-Stop Files", entitled "The Truth Isn't Out There", explaning why the current state of artificial intelligence technology, meant that there was no way X-Stop could have hoped to accurately rate most of the Web in the first place.

Mr. Wallace's essay also listed a number of conservative organizations that had endorsed X-Stop, including the American Family Association, Enough is Enough, and the Family Research Council. At the time of the essay's publication, X-Stop was also recommended by Filtering Facts, an organization that advocates the use of blocking software in libraries. On October 23, David Burt of Filtering Facts posted a press release withdrawing his endorsement of X-Stop. Family Friendly Libraries, another strongly pro-filtering organization, posted a press release on the same day, also withdrawing their support of X-Stop. According to the press release from Filtering Facts, their decision was based largely on the fact that Log-On Data had failed to un-block the sites that were mentioned in Mr. Wallace's essay.

In tests conducted by Peacefire in September 1997, using the then-current version of X-Stop's filter file (set to block only "legally obscene" material), the following sites were blocked: