What is it about the Children's Internet Protection Act that, for the past four months or so, had pundits and politicians tied up in knots? One might have expected the law, which requires schools and libraries that receive federal technology funds to use anti-pornography filtering software, to be met with the same praises and damnations one always hears. But that didn't happen this time.

Instead, Republicans and social conservatives found themselves praising federal control of schools and libraries—something that's been anathema since long before the Contract with America.

Democrats, including White House staff, found themselves pushing for "community discretion" over federal involvement, then backtracking to support "technology protection measures."

Even since the act's passage (it was quietly tucked into a budget bill in the last days of 2000), praise has come from some unusual corners. Boston Globe technology columnist Hiawatha Bray noted that his temptation to "repeat the usual clichÉs about narrow-minded prudes and the sacred right of free expression" ebbed when he imagined his two young daughters "waiting to use the Internet computer at the library, while some guy in a raincoat amuses himself."

Similarly, eCompany Now magazine (a spinoff of Fortune) called it "one of the most sensible pieces of … legislation" on Internet porn. "It could balance the public's desire for access to the Internet with the need to protect children from the more extreme stuff that's out there," said an editorial.

And who was against the legislation? Strangely enough, that list included the largest of the filtering software companies. Susan Getgood, a vice president of Surfcontrol (which owns both CyberPatrol and SurfWatch programs), criticized ...

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