What is PICS?
PICS stands for the Platform for Internet Content Selection. It is a technology which allows specially rated web pages to be screened out by PICS-enabled web browsers so that users do not see them.
PICS was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science and while its technology can be used to screen information according to any agreed criteria, its prime motivation and application is to screen out material deemed "offensive" or "unsuitable" according to some scheme. The most common scheme for screening material was developed by the Recreational Software Advisory Council on the Internet (RSACi) which rates material according to the degree of sex, violence, nudity, and bad language depicted. It is usually this PICS/RSACi screening combination that people have in mind when they refer to PICS.
The levels and catogories of PICS/RSACi
|0||Harmless conflict, some damage to objects||No nudity or revealing attire||Romance, no sex||Inoffensive slang; no profanity|
|1||Creatures injured or killed; damage to objects; fighting||Revealing attire||Passionate kissing||Mild expletives|
|2||Humans injured, or small amounts of blood||Partial nudity||Clothed sexual touching||Expletives; non-sexual anatomical references|
|3||Humans injured or killed||Non-sexual frontal nudity||Non-explicit sexual activity||Strong, vulgar language; obscene gestures; racial epithets|
|4||Wanton and gratuitous violence; torture; rape||Provocative frontal nudity||Explicit sexual activity; sex crimes||Crude or explicit sexual references; extreme hate speech|
To avoid being screened out, web material must:
- have PICS/RSACi ratings hidden (embedded) in their pages
- score lower in all categories than the settings given to the browser software
Currently Microsoft Internet Explorer is the only browser that supports PICS screening, but future releases of Netscape Navigator will also implement it.
Why should I be opposed to PICS?
The development of PICS occurs in a climate where it is widely believed that the internet is a hazardous place for children and respectable adults alike. As a consequence, the fact that PICS relies on Net users configuring their browsers, rather than legal enforcement, has not detracted from its use.
The consequences of subscription to PICS are two-fold. Firstly, it fosters the notion that ideas and images are potentially harmful in and of themselves and that we cannot cope with those we do not like. Thus we are best shielded from ideas that we find offensive "for our own protection".
Secondly, subscription to PICS means you surrender your capacity to judge images and ideas for yourself, and instead allow them to be judged by ratings authorities or originators on your behalf. Unlike the banning of Crash or Lady Chatterley's Lover you may never know that screened material even existed.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) about PICS and Censorship
What can I do to oppose PICS?
- Argue with people about the need for Net ratings schemes
- Encourage the display of the PICS-Free Site logo
- Join the Campaign
Click here for the Original PICS page