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Internet Filtering in Public Libraries Running head: Internet Filtering in Public Libraries


An Overview of the Children's Internet Protection Act and Internet Filtering in Public Libraries

Wayne State University Schroeder/LIS 6010 May 22, 2006

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries An Overview of the Children's Internet Protection Act and Internet Filtering in Public Libraries


Since the inception of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), public libraries from all over the United States have been forced to evaluate their need or desire to filter internet access within their library systems. Libraries have struggled with issues of censorship, information access, and intellectual freedom in the aftermath of CIPA. While internet filtering has been considered even before CIPA, this act forced libraries that had already decided not to impose filtering technology to their computers to comply or be faced with losing national funding. Filtering technologies are also under scrutiny by librarians, as many do not perform to the quality that many librarians wish they would. The issue of filtering technology has brought on a heated debate on both sides; librarians who support its use versus librarians who feel that internet filters are another form of censorship. The CIPA was introduced in the United States Congress as a means of protecting children from viewing pornographic images that may be presented to them on the internet, whether it is intentionally or unintentionally. Goldberg sums up the terms of the CIPA by stating that “CIPA requires public libraries and schools that receive federal funds for Internet connectivity to filter every online workstation, even staff-only machines, but does not appropriate additional funds to purchase blocking software” (2003, p. 12). Even before the passage of the CIPA, about half of the country’s public libraries had already been using filtering technologies, although many of those libraries kept filtering restrained to children’s only terminals (Page, 2005, p. 77). Most public libraries already had internet policies in place and many others required parental approval for minors to use the internet. Unfortunately these measures were not enough to satisfy CIPA regulations and most of

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries these same libraries were forced to apply a broad filtering agenda to their libraries or lose much


needed federal funding (Goldberg, 2003, p. 13). “To comply with CIPA, a technology protection measure must “protect” users from visual depictions – the blocking of objectionable text is not covered by the legislation (Johnson, 2003, p. 104). However, much of the internet filtering software available to librarians will block material based on keywords and block lists, as there currently is no other way to block only objectionable images. Furthermore, “since there is no filtering software designed to block only what CIPA requires, innocent sites are often blocked as well (McCutcheon, 2003, p. 11). Due to the variety in performance and the proprietary nature of the software being used in most libraries, many librarians are wary of over blocking, therefore their patrons are not getting the information they desire from their internet searches. Still other librarians have noticed under blocking, or objectionable images still getting through, despite the use of a filter. The CIPA was officially passed in December 2000, however a trial held in lower courts determined that this act was unconstitutional as it violated the rights granted to citizens under the First Amendment The CIPA was then appealed to the Supreme Court in May of 2003 and the original decision upheld (Johnson, 2003, p. 100). Debra McCutcheon paints a picture of both sides of this issue, including the two groups supported the unconstitutionality of the act and fought to have it repealed. The American Library Association (ALA), stands firmly on the grounds that using internet filters is a form of censorship; they also believe that “using a filter to block inappropriate sites is not covered by the same discretion allowed a library when it decides not to purchase what it considers an inappropriate book for its shelves.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on the other hand, argues that the “filtering will widen the digital divide between the ‘haves’–those who can afford Internet access in the home- and the ‘have-

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries nots’ –low income people, minorities, and those who live in rural areas where reliable Internet access is not always available.” Both sides come together because they believe that “forcing libraries to choose between funding and censorship means millions of library users will lose, particularly those in the most poverty-stricken areas of the county.” (2003, p. 11) The fate of the CIPA eventually made its way to the Supreme Court where Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist agreed that the act was effective in blocking pornographic images from children. The original law stated that adult patrons may ask a librarian to remove a filter at any time for legitimate research. Rehnquist added that libraries “must have broad discretion” when deciding what materials are added to their collections and that “their goal has never been to provide ‘universal coverage’” (2005, p. 73). A librarian, David Burt, also supports that there should be filters in libraries and claims that the, “antifiltering arguments are often full of distortions, half-truths, and poor logic” (1997, p. 46). The arguments against filtering include concerns that filtering impedes intellectual freedom and potentially goes against the statements contained in the Library Bill of Rights, which are the foundation for library services and policies. Internet filtering places a barrier between the patron and the information, those against filtering believe that even though an adult


patron has the right to ask for the filter to be removed, many are unlikely to do so and the barrier will still exist. Also, as stated in the Library Bill of Rights, the ALA does not discriminate by age when access to information is involved; therefore internet filtering violates this principle because filters are implemented on all machines for all patrons. More importantly, by upholding the CIPA, the Supreme Court has laid the groundwork for more dangerous legislation that may further “erode intellectual freedom rights” (Rubin, 2004, p. 157).

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries It has been six years now since the original passage of the CIPA and three years since it


was upheld in the Supreme Court and declared constitutional. Libraries that have let their public internet terminals remain filter free have decided to make due without federal money, while those that rely on federal money have tried to make due with the filtering software that is available to them. The ALA has made resources available on their website to educate librarians on the best software solutions for library systems and how to comply with the CIPA regulations while still giving patrons the most unfettered access to information possible. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all solution for every public library and each one has to determine how best to serve their community, whether that is filtered, or unfiltered.

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries Annotated Bibliography ALA | CIPA. Retrieved May 16, 2006, from The American Library Association has compiled a list of resources for librarians interested in educating themselves on the Children's Internet Protection Act. The site


sections include advice for internet filtering implementation, articles, and legal history. The advice area of the site contains useful frequently asked questions, best practices, and links to other helpful resources for librarians. The news and articles section highlights pieces that have been written about the internet filtering and about The Children's Internet Protection Act. The articles give a clear picture of the background and controversy through an authoritative source on the subject. The legal history of the site is a collection of legal documents for further investigation of the act and its regulations. ALA | Library Bill of Rights. (1996, January 23). Retrieved May 23, 2006, from The American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights was adopted in 1948 as a list of fundamental principles that all librarians should follow. The Bill of Rights was amended in 1980 and reaffirmed in 1996. The Bill of Rights is especially valid in the argument that internet filtering is in violation of the principles held in high regard in the profession of Librarianship, including offering information from varied points of view and without bias or censorship. The Library Bill of Rights also states that libraries shall not discriminate based on race, religion, gender, or age. It is also stated

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries that libraries should cooperate with individuals that do resist the free expression of ideas. Burt, D. (1998). In defense of filtering. American Libraries, 29(7). Retrieved May 18, 2006, from ProQuest Reference Library Core database. David Burt, a librarian in favor of internet filtering, is the pro-filtering arguments biggest supporter. He launched a non-profit organization called Filtering Facts, however since this was more than ten years ago the organization is no longer in existence. His original 1997 article in favor of internet filtering is still most cited, however, as Burt lists ten anti-filtering arguments and refutes each of them. While he is not the only librarian that is in favor of internet filtering he seems to be the most


outspoken about the issue and quite dismayed that the American Library Association's continued and unbending stance on anti-filtering. Chlebanowski, L. (2006, May 9). Filtered at the reference desk [098209]. Message posted to Lise Chlebanowski, a Library Manager at Avondale Public Library in Avondale, Arizona, posted a direct response to Jim Maroon's original post on being filtered at the reference desk at his library. Lise's situation was similar in that their information technology is also administered by a municipality and not by their library system; therefore a city wide internet blocking policy is in place. This hinders the work that Lise is able to do for her patrons. The unfortunate outcome of her situation, however, is that Lise often takes reference questions home to research on her own unfiltered internet access. It is apparent that internet filtering in Lise's case has a direct effect on her job whereby she cannot even do some of her work at her job.

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries


Goldberg, B. (2003). Supreme court upholds CIPA. American Libraries, 34(7), 12-13. Retrieved May 18, 2006, from WilsonSelectPlus database. Beverly Goldberg, a contributing editor to the publication, American Libraries, published a special news report in the journal regarding the Children's Internet Protection Act shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the decision that it was constitutional. The new report gives an in depth picture of the views of the Supreme Court Justices and where each one stood in their decision. Goldberg also gave an in depth report on how libraries were forced to examine their bottom line. Since national funds are tied directly to the decision to install internet filters, the cost for some libraries to choose a filter effected their purchasing decisions for other items and worker salaries. Goldberg even revealed that for some states the decision is a little more complicated because state funds may be directly tied to federal funds, often libraries do not have the option to refuse both and must choose to implement filtering, despite their best interests. Johnson, M. (2003). The children's internet protection act. Texas Library Journal, 79(3), 100, 102-104. Retrieved May 18, 2006, from WilsonSelectPlus database. Marilyn Johnson, a manager of continuing education at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, published a primer for libraries and librarians on the Children's Internet Protection Act, once the act was upheld by the Supreme Court. The primer includes a description, a brief history, and a description of terms and regulations important to librarians. The publication is straightforward with a frequently asked questions section for librarians concerned about what they need to do to continue funding options and operate under CIPA guidelines. A brief description of what a

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries library needs to do to be CIPA compliant and what a typical internet user policy must contain is also available. Maroon, J. (2006, May 9). Filtered at the reference desk [098184]. Message posted to While much of information on internet filtering ranges from 1997 to about 2004, it is


apparent that this issue is still prevalent in 2006. Jim Maroon, Head of Public Services at Lawton Public Library in Lawton, Oregon posted an inquiry on the Public Library Discussion List about his own filtering experiences. As stated, the decisions on internet filtering fall on the municipality where the library is located and not the by library administration. Since the municipality has agreed on filtering policies that will not exclude the library, due to the fact that the municipality is administrating the internet, this librarian had the unfortunate experience of encountering a blocked page while researching a topic for a patron. This librarian also could not get the block removed due to a less than understanding information technology department that did not understand the reason why a librarian would need unrestricted access to the internet. McCutcheon, D. (2003). Internet filtering: Battle lines and solutions. PNLA Quarterly, 67(4), 1013. Retrieved May 18, 2006, from WilsonSelectPlus database. Debra McCutcheon is a school librarian; her article published in the Pacific Northwest Librarian Association Quarterly outlines the issue of the Children's Internet Protection Act before a decision by the Supreme Court had been granted. McCutcheon gave a concise overview of the issue from two sides of the filtering issue, including an explanation of the issues concerning both the American Library Association and the

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries American Civil Liberties Union. McCutcheon includes a review of the issue from both the opponents and the proponents of internet filtering, and includes a review of the how well internet filtering software works based on her own research and experiences. Page, C. (2005). Internet Filters Should Not Be Used in Libraries. In N. C. Nakaya (Ed.),


Censorship: Opposing Viewpoints (pp. 75-78). Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press. Clarence Page is an editorial columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He was awarded the American Civil Liberties Union James P. McGuire Award for columns he has published focused on constitutional rights. After the Supreme Court upheld The Children's Internet Protection Act he took a hard stance against the new law in an editorial claiming that it was in clear violation of freedom of speech rights. His position strengthens arguments claimed by American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union that the CIPA strengthens the digital divide. He argues that tying the filtering law to funding only forces libraries with less money and more of a reliance on government funding to impose censorship. Rehnquist, W. H. (2005). Internet Filters Should Be Used in Libraries. In N. C. Nakaya (Ed.), Censorship: Opposing Viewpoints (pp. 71-74). Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press. William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2003, was one of the proponents of the Children's Internet Protection Act during the appeal process. His arguments in favor of the act claimed that because adults could ask a librarian to turn filtering off, it was not a violation of First Amendment Rights. He also justifies his stance by interprets the public libraries mission and the Library Bill of Rights by

Internet Filtering in Public Libraries


stating that libraries have a broad discretion to determine what materials are included in library collections and that libraries do not seek to provide universal coverage. Rubin, R. (2004). Foundations of library and information science. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers. Richard Rubin, director of the School of Library and Information Science program at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio has published a definitive text and authoritative overview of the Information Profession. Helpful to the research of internet filtering is the section on the Children's Internet Protection Act offered in the book. This section outlines various intellectual freedom concerns that librarians should be aware of when trying to understand the CIPA. Rubin also gives a substantial time line for the CIPA and explains how the law was implemented.