remember CIPA?

Remember CIPA? And remember how we were always holding out hope that someone would challenge it in an “as applied” challenge, an adult who wanted to view material that was blocked by the filters? Well there’s been a challenge, in Washington state, and the State Supreme Court ruled that filtering for adults was in fact permissible, lumping it in with collection development. The case concerns the North Central Regional Library System Opinion here and dissenting opinion here. Interestingly, the sites that were contentious in this case were web sites on firearms, not pornography or otherwise racy topics. Can you see WomenShooters.com at your library?

NCRL’s filtering policy does not prevent any speech and in particular it does not ban or attempt to ban online speech before it occurs. Rather, it is a standard for making determinations about what will be included in the collection available to NCRL’s patrons.

Thus, NCRL’s filtering policy, when applied, is not comparable to removal of items from NCRL’s collection, but rather acquisition of materials to add to its collection. NCRL has made the only kind of realistic choice of materials that is possible without unduly and unnecessarily curtailing the information available to a bare trickle — or a few drops — of the vast river of information available on the Internet.

This may be the set up for a very interesting lawsuit. I hope they appeal.

Reminders of courteous behavior instead of filters in San Jose

I read it first on Librarian in Black but liked the coverage of the Mercury News. The San Jose Public Library decided to not add filters to the public library computers after a year and a half of debate. One of the points made by the article is that startup costs to add filters would be about $90,000 with annual maintenance costs of $5,000. You can read the final policy statement here (pdf). In includes the fact that, out of almost 1.4 million computer login sessions at SJ Public Libraries (excluding the King Library), library staff received two complaints of lewd behavior and only one complaint to staff about pornography viewing. The King Library, the main library, had a similar number of login sessions and 14 complaints about pornography viewing.

ACLU: Internet content filters, not for governments to decide

“Government imposed censorship is very different from censorship imposed by a parent.”
“Internet content filtering does in fact have flaws… It overblocks.”

Thanks to Sarah for the heads up and kudos for the ACLU using your research. I find that numbers, not emotional appeals are what are going to really help make the case against governmentally-mandated filters. Here’s hoping.

BPL’s Bernie Margolis – contract not renewed

Bernie Margolis was on ALA Council with me and is one of my favorite library administrators. He’s taken some bold stances in favor of intellectual freedom, from resisting filtering to refusing to bow to government pressure to remove items from his libraries’ shelves. Now he’s being fired — or rather his contract isn’t being renewed — because, as near as I can tell from the Boston Phonix, the Mayor dislikes him. While I assume that Bernie will emerge from all of this unscathed because he’s that type of guy, I’m distressed to hear this. I always liked this photo I took of him during the Democratic National Convention, telling the TV crew to quit parking on the plaza in front of the library. [techtonics]

Now that Margolis’s firing is about to be made official, the city is being treated to a campaign of disinformation suggesting that, while Margolis was good for the historic central library in Copley Square, his track record in the branches was lacking. This is rubbish, so out of line with reality that it approaches a big-lie strategy: tell a whopper with enough conviction and frequency and you can get the public to believe it. It will probably work. Also wrested out of context are recycled versions of Margolis’s unwillingness to install Internet filters — except for children — on library computers. Free speech may be uncomfortable at times, but it should never be so in a library. It is the branch libraries, though, that are now center stage.

is this the CIPA lawsuit we have been waiting for?

Seth links to an ACLU-WA press release which states that they are helping three patrons and a non-profit bring a lawsuit against the North Central Regional Library System in Eastern Washington for not allowing adult patrons to disable the SmartFilter filtering software that the library places on its public access computers. No statement from the library in the ACLU press release, or on their own website at this point. I hope they can resolve this in some amicable way that involves a whole new tough look at CIPA and the overfiltering that often happens in the name of compliance. From the press release:

Bess blocks a very broad array of lawful information, and the NCRL has refused to unblock sites for patrons.

The lawsuit contends that the library system’s policy of refusing to disable its Internet filters at the request of adults who wish to conduct bona fide research or to access the Web for other lawful purposes violates the United States and Washington State constitutions. The suit seeks an order directing the NCRL to provide unblocked access to the Internet when adults request it.

As you may recall, CIPA mandates that libraries who get E-rate money “have the ability to block minors from seeing “visual depictions” of sexual activity” which usually involves installing filters.

However, the Supreme Court decision also made it clear that if these filters wound up blocking constitutionally protected speech from adults, there might be trouble. That is to say, the law was judged to be constitutional on its face, but it was undetermined whether the law was also constitutional as it is applied. This lawsuit may help untangle some of that

In the meantime, according to the Public Libraries and the Internet report issued by the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at the College of Information, Florida State University (at around p. 100 but read the whole thing) “15.3% (+/- 3.6%) of libraries [surveyed] said [t]he library has applied for E-rate in the past, but because of the need to comply with CIPA, our library decided not to apply in 2006.” This is a damned shame. The Institute surveyed almost 5,000 libraries, a pretty large group of libraries. To hear that over 700 libraries decided to forego E-rate money to avoid the burden of filtering… well what does that tell you?

crap, filtering bill on the move

Straight form the Center for Democracy and Technology: “The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would force schools and libraries to block chat and social networking sites as a condition of receiving federal E-rate funding.” This bill is also known as DOPA, also known as bad news for libraries. Putting the Federal Communications Commission in charge of what can and can’t be accessed in libraries is total madness. Granted, this is the same as CIPA where only libraries who receive universal service support have to be subjected to it. The phrase “harmful to minors” which is not a legally defined term will be the standard for what gets filtered under this legislation. I guess I have just a few questions

1. If CIPA didn’t fix this problem — and recall, it was supposed to — why will this bill succeed where it failed? Have filters gotten better? Have the “bad guys” gotten dumber?
2. Doesn’t this create a class system of libraries where the ones who can forego federal funding can make choices that the ones who cannot are unable to make? Isn’t this sort of anti-American?
3. Doesn’t DOPA not solve any problem at all if it’s not applied to all schools and libraries and, in fact, the entire Internet, really? Does anyone have any data on where teens access the Internet besides school and the library? Is anyone doing anything about those places?
4. Isn’t having the FCC publish an annual list of chatrooms and social networking sites that “have been shown to allow sexual predators easy access to personal information of, and contact with, children” just creating a how to list for pedophiles and, as such, totally counterproductive?
5. Have any of you Representatives ever used a social networking site or a chat room?

how do patrons perceive your filtering system?

Filtering is a reality that many libraries have to deal with in order to get funding for their connectivity and/or technology. I think some libraries give up once they have to filter and don’t make the patrons’ filtering interactions as user-friendly as their other library interactions.

not just filtering, but reporting too, ick!

Libraries that take federal money already have to have filters. Now the Allegheny Council [PA] is considering a bill to require libraries to report incidents involving “illegal” viewing of pornography on library computers. If libraries fail to report these incidents annually — ostensibly to help improve the filters — the county will not fund the consortium computer network. Thanks to state privacy laws, at least these reports can’t contain personally identifying information. Also included in the resolution are training sessions for librarians with the police and the DA on appropriate internet usage. A local librarian writes up her impressions.

Surely there’s some threshold where libraries can say, “We’ve got filters on the computers. We’re complying with all laws. We have library policies to address this. Get off our backs and let us do our jobs!” Instead, our representatives are meekly letting folks who don’t comprehend the situation sit in judgment.

Consumer Reports weighs in on filtering

You know all this, but it’s fresh on my mind since one of my talks this week dealt with filtering. Filters are imperfect, even Consumer Reports says so. So, if you must filter, I’d suggest a patron information campaign about what the library is mandated to do, how you are doing it, with as much information as possible about the rights of adults to constitutionally protected speech.

the quest for the perfect filter

What do you do when you’re using CIPA-approved filters in your library and patrons or politicians want you to use filters that will block ALL pornography? In this case, in Pennsylvania, it looks like the local paper gets it right.

article: Allegheny County Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, hopes libraries across the county will adopt even stricter measures to prevent similar incidents. He wants the eiNetwork, the computer network that links the 44 public library systems of the Allegheny County Library Association, to use filters capable of blocking all pornographic or inappropriate material found on the Web.

editorial: With such an alarm sounded, someone might think libraries in the county are hotbeds of vice. In reality, they are centers of serious learning and improvement presided over by librarians, who rank among the most respectable members of society. It would be hard to find any group of people more dedicated and less inclined to tolerate those who would pollute their sanctum.

[thanks megan]