“Without freedom of speech, we’d all be in the swamp.” That old Bob Dylan lyric leapt to mind as I read our Front Page report on the new study from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). The study comes down hard on contemporary internet filtering solutions, but I suspect NCAC’s genuine target wasn’t really the filtering software at all.

More likely, it was the law that mandates filtering—the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Schools slipped into the CIPA swamp only days ago, when the law took practical effect. Now, NCAC says we’ll all be up to our elbows in alligators. I just don’t think it’s quite that bad.

“Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report” declares that content-control software is flawed beyond redemption. From a technical point of view, that’s too glum an assessment. When used properly, current versions of most leading filtering software perform pretty much as promised.

Trouble is, what the software publishers promised and what the CIPA authors envisioned are two different things, a legitimate point the NCAC report is at pains to underscore.

The lawmakers apparently imagined a magic bullet that, when triggered electronically, would whiz through the classroom, computer lab, and library knocking off unwanted web content left and right (or . . . maybe mostly just left). That didn’t happen, of course, and it won’t. Even with the most sophisticated filtering solution, human intervention and adult supervision are still required. And that’s a good thing.

I suspect NCAC really would much rather have hammered CIPA itself. And because a federal mandate is a poor substitute for local control, there’s merit to that impulse.

But helloooo. The legislation is in place. It’s a done deal, passed by an overwhelming congressional majority. Get over it.

A law can always be repealed, of course. But until CIPA is undone, schools simply must make the best of it. And they are.

Unless you’re in San Francisco. There, city lawmakers recently upheld Frisco’s freewheeling image.

“eRate?” cried the city council, “We don’t need no stinkin’ eRate.” And, in an awesome gesture of defiance, the council members turned down eRate funding with one hand and thumbed their noses at CIPA with the other. (The gesture seemed perhaps a shade less grand when recalling that the city’s schools previously, and on largely different grounds, had decided not to partake of eRate money anyway.)

Even so, what a fine thing it is to take a stand!

Yet the instincts in other cities are just as noble. It’s not that educators elsewhere are so desperate for technology that they’d sell their soul for a Cisco router. It’s probably just that they don’t think the world will crash if a kid can’t get to the breast cancer web site without permission from a grownup.

The target of NCAC should be the legislation, not the software. But as much as I’d love to rail against CIPA and the injustice of censorship in the classroom, I just can’t get my knickers in a knot on this one.

Like the man said, “The times they are a-changin’.”