November 17, 2003

Top Ten Tips about Internet Filters

This is one of several tip sheets for the IFC workshop on hot IF issues given at CLA Annual 2003 (Ontario).

Top Ten Tips about Internet Filters
Karen G. Schneider, IFC Chair

1. Filters block Constitutionally-protected speech. This is a fact not disputed in the CIPA decision. (The Court reasoned that disabling filters on request was an adequate remediation for this problem.)

2. CIPA only applies to E-Rate (and in some cases LSTA), and only applies for Internet connection costs. CIPA has no impact on libraries not accepting E-Rate or LSTA, or only accepting E-Rate or LSTA money for costs unrelated to Internet connections.

3. CIPA, as described in the law and unchallenged by the FCC, requires libraries to filter all computers, for staff as well as the public.

4. The Supreme Court believes it is easy for librarians to disable filters on a case-by-case basis.

5. The CIPA decision and subsequent FCC and IMLS interpretations did not clarify whether adults are legally entitled to unfiltered access on request.

6. Filters hide blocked sites in encrypted lists, eliminating accountability on their end and sunshine on our end. This was not discussed in the CIPA decision and is probably irrelevant as far as future court cases are concerned (which does not make this point unimportant).

7. At least one Supreme Court justice reasoned that litigation at the local level is an appropriate mechanism for sorting out the fuzzier areas of CIPA compliance, which raises the spectre of at least one “Son of Loudoun.”

8. CIPA did nothing to clarify First Amendment law with respect to public libraries and similar institutions, and in fact may have significantly muddied the law through its emphasis on “public forums” at the expense of exploring the less trafficked territories of "restrictions imposed on public institutions that are designed for the purpose of disseminating information," as discussed in "A Missed Opportunity," Bob Corn-Revere's article in the September issue of the Cato Supreme Court Review.

9. Because E-Rate is an after-service reimbursement, creative solutions to CIPA filtering requirements are somewhat of a crapshoot.
The technical aspects of “disabling” Internet filters were not addressed in CIPA, and the FCC did not clarify. This means it is unknown, to use two commonly-discussed examples, if it is CIPA-compliant to allow adult users to disable filters through a signed form or through self-selection on a Web screen.

10. It may seem that every library in the world is filtering, but that's not the case at all. Many libraries have chosen not to filter (and remember, CIPA doesn't give libraries much latitude for filtering). Some have chosen not to filter for philosophical reasons, and some for financial, and others for a combination of the two. We don't hear about these libraries because staying low-profile is a strategy, but nonetheless, if you aren't filtering all or most of the computers in your library, you are not alone.

Posted by kgs at November 17, 2003 08:04 AM

Wanted everyone to know about a CIPA loophole and that is this...if you are getting Internet access through a common carrier (as defined by the FCC), you are not required to filter.

So, this is one way to get E-rate discounts for telecommunications AND Internet access and still not be required to filter all your library computers.

Doublecheck the rules for yourself, but this is the word I get from Bob Bocher who is an expert on E-Rate and speaks regularly with the FCC folks.

Posted by: Lori Ayre at November 17, 2003 12:43 PM

Thanks, Lori! Bob Bocher is indeed a highly credible source, and if he says it's so I'd buy that in a second (standard disclaimers apply).

Posted by: K. G. Schneider at November 17, 2003 05:49 PM
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