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.
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.
“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.
Now that Margolisâ€™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 Margolisâ€™s unwillingness to install Internet filters â€” except for children â€” 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.
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 systemâ€™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?