COPA Trial Expert’s Report

Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought blog carries a post today on the expert witness’s report in the COPA trial on the sexual content of search enginge queries. He quotes the report’s summary:

This study reports on the Google and MSN indexes, on AOL, MSN and Yahoo! queries, and on the most popular Wordtracker queries. About 1 percent of the websites in the Google and MSN indexes are sexually explicit. About 6 percent of queries retrieve a sexually explicit website. Nearly 40 percent of the most popular queries retrieve a sexually explicit website. Close to 90 percent of the sexually explicit websites retrieved by queries are domestic. Filters that block more of the sexually explicit websites also block more of the clean websites. The most restrictive filter blocks about 94 percent of the sexually explicit search results, but also blocks about 13 percent of the clean results. Of the sexually explicit websites that get through the filters, 30 percent to 90 percent are domestic.

The number of sexually explicit websites is huge. Search results often include sexually explicit material. A lot of sexually explicit material is not blocked by filters. Of that, a substantial percentage is domestic.

The government is relying on this report to argue that filters are not adequate to control access to material “harmful to minors.” The government argues that filters underblock, i.e. fail to screen sexually explicit websites, and that the filters most successful at screening sexually explicit content also block a large number of pages with no sexually explicit content,

It is serendipitous that the COPA trial overlaps discussion of COPA and First Amendment issues in my Internet law course. In addition to Infothought, the ACLU’s Trial Transcripts and Nerve’s Live from the COPA Trial offer what amounts to play-by-play and color commentary, respectively.

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