[Libs-Or] Filters and CIPA - a different point of view
wyma at newportlibrary.org
Mon Apr 28 10:24:13 PDT 2003
From: owner-member-forum at ala.org [mailto:owner-member-forum at ala.org] On
Behalf Of Skip Auld
To ALA Member-Forum, Intellectual Freedom Round Table, Publib, Chesterfield
County Public Library staff, Chesterfield County Public Schools librarians,
and other lists:
I've excerpted below some of the key statements from my February 2003
American Libraries article, which I originally sub-titled "The Effectiveness
of Internet Filters and the Changing Application of Intellectual Freedom
Principles in the Digital Age." I wrote the article to provide empirical
evidence from a "live" situation in which filters have worked quite well. I
write from the perspective of devotion to intellectual freedom principles,
as well as respect for facts. The facts of our situation contradict the
continual onslaught of reports on how poorly filters work. I say this in
spite of personal knowledge of filters which work terribly because of how
they are deployed.
The library profession is faced with a recurring cycle of legislation -
legal challenge - renewed legislation - renewed legal challenge. As Mary
Minow pointed out in that same issue of American Libraries, this cycle is
very costly, in terms of money, energy, and focus. Once the CIPA decision
is handed down by the Supreme Court within the next several weeks, the
American Library Association will again be at a crossroads.
As readers of my article know, I hope CIPA will be overturned (and have
contributed to ALA's CIPA legal fund) because libraries do not need the
intrusion of federal (or state) mandates on how to operate. We've generally
been doing quite well managing this great new Internet service over the past
decade. If indeed CIPA is overturned, we as a profession could decide to
back away from the combative role we've taken over filters and present
ourselves as reasonable and willing to work with elected officials at all
levels. That's exactly what we've been doing at the local level, developing
Internet use policies and using filters, privacy screens, and other methods
to ensure that customers have a positive and valuable experience every time
they use our libraries.
If CIPA is upheld, as I now expect after attending the oral arguments at the
Supreme Court on March 5 and after reviewing my notes and the transcript
(http://sethf.com/censorware/legal/cipa_auld.php), then we are stuck with
the federal mandate (if we want to accept the e-rate and LSTA funds which
have been so important, particularly in providing access for poor people).
If that happens, I can attest that the sky won't have fallen. It is quite
possible to narrow the scope of a filter to focus it on blocking pornography
and to keep it from the horrendous overblocking about which we all know so
much. Even though filters aren't perfect!!
Excerpts (with a couple of additions) from "Filters work: Get over it,"
American Libraries, February 2003:
This article isn't an argument for the deployment of filters on all library
Whoever said filters need to be perfect? ALA's expectations of filter
accuracy constitute a standard of perfection far beyond the expectations of
most people who use Internet stations and of the staff who must administer
them. Indeed, we have found that our filter's level of blocking accuracy
enables us to meet a major operational objective: the creation of a positive
and vibrant atmosphere that enhances Chesterfield County Public Library's
value as an integral place in our communities.
The reality is that when a library uses filters on some, but not all, of its
Internet-access computers, that library is deciding where, how, and
sometimes when, its customers access the Internet. Such management of
resources does not limit access to online content; rather, it creates a
legal and prudent time, place, or manner restriction.
Moreover, a library isn't denying or abridging a minor's rights by requiring
a parent or guardian's permission for a child to have unfiltered access.
Instead, it is placing another time, place, or manner restriction that
rightfully leaves access decisions in the hands of parents or guardians. As
stated in the Association's February 1999 core-values statement, "Libraries:
An American Value": "We affirm the responsibility and the right of all
parents and guardians to guide their own children's use of the library and
its resources and services" (Was at www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/ lib_val.html.
Now at http://tinyurl.com/abmt or by searching www.ala.org.)
On December 10, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation announced the findings
of yet another report proving, according to ALA, that filters don't work
(AL, Jan., p. 20). However, the December 11 Journal of the American Medical
Association interpreted the Kaiser findings as proof that, "at [filters']
least restrictive settings, overblocking of general health information poses
a relatively minor impediment." JAMA also noted that WebSense (the filter
used at Chesterfield County Public Library) at the least restrictive setting
blocked 0.6% of health information (15 out of 2,467 URLs) and 0.5% of
recommended teen-health information (three out of 586 URLs). At this
setting, WebSense blocked 83.9% of pornography, or 433 out of 516 URLs.
Immediately after the release of "See No Evil: How Internet Filters Affect
the Search for Online Health Information," I checked all 40 of the Kaiser
study's "blocked sites" examples on a filtered Chesterfield computer. Our
filter settings didn't restrict access to a single one of these general- and
sexual-health Web sites.
Of course, many libraries have found that other non-filtering methods work
well to achieve their objectives-testimony to the vibrancy and creativity of
America's libraries. Furthermore, it remains critically important for ALA to
do battle so that localities can determine the best way to manage Internet
access in their own libraries. But to continue insisting that filters do not
work is to misunderstand their purpose, and to undermine the libraries that
have incorporated blocking software into their Internet-use management
In answer to a question about ALA's anti-filtering stance, then-presidential
candidate Carla Hayden said in the March 15, 2002, Library Journal: "Issues
as critical to information access as this must continually be reexamined as
the technology changes and legislation and judicial interpretation evolve.
To drive a stake in the ground on the issue and not revisit it would not
serve our profession or those we serve."
It is time for ALA to uproot the stake it drove into the ground with its
1997 filtering resolution. Blocking software has proven to be a valuable
management tool with mild side effects, and almost half the public libraries
in the U.S. use filters in some fashion [According to the latest findings
from Florida State University's Information Use Management and Policy
Institute, "Public Libraries and the Internet 2002: Internet Connectivity
and Networked Services, by John Bertot and Chuck McClure, 41.9% of public
library outlets use filters on some or all workstations (Table 10)
Hampton "Skip" Auld
Assistant Director, Chesterfield County (VA) Public Library
(804) 748-1767; Fax: (804) 751-4679
More information about the Libs-Or