filtering in libraries

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Date: 1999-05-20 17:52
From: lists@BENTON.ORG
Subject: Headlines Extra -- Libraries 5/20/99

This week's Extra highlights the hot topic of Internet filtering and
libraries.  With the help of the National Commission on Libraries and
Information Science (NCLIS), the American Library Association (ALA)
and other sources, we try to put into perspective recent legislative
efforts to require Internet filters in public libraries.



         The Debate
             *Filtering the Internet in American Public Libraries:
               Sliding Down the Slippery Slope (First Monday)
             *After Filter Summit, ALA May Revisit 1997 Resolution,
               Children's Access
             *Children's Internet Protection Act
             *Safe Schools Internet Act of 1999
             *In the States

         "Never before have students - of all ages -
         been able to gain so much access to information
         in support of their studies.  But we also recognize
         what some have referred to as the 'dark side of the
         -- Jeanne Hurley Simon, Chair of the US National
         Commission on Libraries and Information Science

In response to the potential harmful material available to children
over the Internet, the NCLIS provides these possible solutions (see
Kids and The Internet: The Promise and The Perils

* Libraries can implement procedures for gaining parental permission
that describes what sort of access is permissible for their children.
* Separate terminals can be provided for adults and children, or
multiple profiles can be installed on terminals, so that children are
not allowed the same access as older people.
* Libraries can restrict the use of chat by children to sites that
have been specifically approved (e.g., moderated chat groups,
designated interactive sites, such as homework helpers, museums, and
* Privacy screens or recessed monitors can be installed on public
terminals so that only the terminal user can see what is displayed.
* Libraries can require users to sign up for the use of Internet
access terminals and acknowledge their understanding of the libraries'
Internet use policies.
* Libraries can present their own home pages that point children to
sites that are pre-selected and evaluated.
* Libraries can provide Internet training, education, and other
awareness programs to parents and teachers that alert them to both the
promise and the perils of the Internet and describe how they can help
children have a safe and rewarding experience online.
* Internet access terminals can be configured with software - which
can be turned on or off - that restricts access to designated Web
sites or specific Internet functions.

On her April 15th show, national radio talkshow host Dr. Laura
Schlessinger criticized the American Library Association (ALA)
for providing a link to a health information Web site, Go Ask Alice,
on the organization's Teen Hoopla Web site (
In an message posted to Filtering Facts (,
"an online source for information about making Internet access in
libraries safe for kids," the ALA maintains the Web site was selected
"because it is a factual, straightforward and comprehensive source of
health information".  Dr. Laura, as she is popularly know, called the
ALA policy on filtering as "indefensible" in that it allows children
to access sexually graphic and pornographic material.

ALA's official policy on filtering is that everyone should have the
right to access to all information on the Internet.  "I, for one, fear
that in our haste to find Internet solutions, we may be in danger of
selling our children and their First Amendment rights as adults down
the river," said ALA President Ann K. Symons at the Annenberg National
Conference on the Internet and the Family.

The Dr. Laura broadcast has not only brought attention to some of the
key aspects of the issue -- access to information, child protection,
and freedom of speech -- it has resulted in concrete losses for
libraries.  On May 3, Toys ''R Us canceled its plans to fund
children's reading rooms in public libraries nationwide.  On her show,
Dr. Laura encouraged her 20 million listeners to demonstrate their
opposition to ALA's non-filtering position at the ALA conference in
New Orleans on late June.  For additional information, see Dr Laura
continues crusade against ALA
( and Filtering
Facts (



Since the American Library Association (ALA) issues its first Library
Bill of Rights in 1939, libraries in the United States have struggled
to ward off censorship and promote intellectual freedom.  More than a
half a century latter, libraries are still engaged in the never-ending
battle for protect free expression, but the focus of debate has
shifted from the printed word to the electronic world.  Libraries and
librarians around the nation must now struggle to determine what free
speech means in the age of the Internet.

Information, The Public Library, and the Internet

With Internet access available in most of the nation's public
libraries there is a growing national debate about how to best
protect children from undesirable material online.  On June 26,
1997, the Supreme Court declared that the federal legislative attempt
to limit access to the Internet in the name of protecting citizens,
the Communications Decency Act, was unconstitutional.  The Court
declared that "the interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a
democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of
censorship".  In reaction to the Supreme Court decision, ALA Council
by adopted a resolution affirming that "the use of filtering software
by libraries to block access to constitutionally protected speech
violates the Library Bill of Rights."

The ALA statement, however, "did not resolve the problem for
public libraries who must answer to boards, to parents and to their
constituencies," writes the author.  Despite recent legislation and
court decisions regarding libraries and filtering, public libraries
must resolve these issues at the local level.  "The very real issues
arising from pornography on the Internet are not going to be resolved
by the courts; they are going to be resolved by public libraries and
public library users," explains the Director of the Cleveland Public

The following are key questions that librarians must address in
developing public libraries role as a gateway to the Internet:
* Are the well-developed library procedures of selection and mediation
of information  applicable to the Internet?
* Should a librarian abdicate those responsibilities in the name of
* Does a library have the same responsibilities toward the potential
information that may be received via the Internet that it assumes over
all the other materials in its collection?
* Finally, how does the public library reconcile its role as a
government institution while at the same time as safeguarding
community standards in an Internet environment?

Filtering, The Librarians and The Public

The number of commercial filtering products on the market is rapidly
proliferating.  Currently, there are approximately eighteen different
types of filtering programs available.  The most widely used method
of filtering is keyword blocking, which blocks sites that contain
specific words or phrases.  Another method is host or site blocking,
in which specific Internet sites are selected for blocking.  Protocol
filtering, which is the blocking of entire domains, is heavily used
in homes and schools.  The problem is that all these methods can result
in the unintentional blocking of useful and constitutionally protected

Filtering issues are increasingly being discussed on listservs and
the Internet.  One example is Peacefire, a Web site that claims to
be a "revolutionary space where teenagers from all over the world
can gather to form a political community, share values, fight for
political rights, and support and defend one another from continuous
assaults on their freedom."  The Web site monitors software filtering
developments, reviews new programs, and links to other like-minded
sites.  Presenting an opposing view, the Filtering Facts Web site
brings pro-filtering librarians together to contest the ALA's position
against blocking software.

Active and heated discussions on filtering are also taking place
on listservs.  PUBLIB (public libraries) and LIBADMIN (library
administration) hold continuous discussions but little is ever
resolved.  Though worthy forums for people to voice their concerns,
people usually stand deeply divided on the issue and those seeking
consensus are often outcast as 'traitors'.

Parents and the general public have often praised filtering efforts in
areas such as Boston (MA), San Francisco (CA), and Orange County (FL).
But after hearing objections from the ALA and ACLU, the Boston Public
Library has adapted its initial stance on filtering all its computers
by installing "two different Internet versions, one unfiltered
for adults and one filtered for children".  Nationally syndicated
columnist Ellen Goodman commented on the issue saying she supports
the "Boston solution" but only as a temporary child protection measure.
In the name of intellectual freedom, she called for a better solution
to the problems of libraries and the Internet.

Filtering and the American Library Association

At its 1996 Midwinter Meeting, ALA membership unanimously approved
a new Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights -- "Access to
Electronic Information, Services, and Networks".  The Interpretation
affirms the rights of the users, including minors, to access
electronic information and states that "users should not be restricted
or denied access for expressing or receiving constitutionally
protected speech.  The statement concludes, "it is left to each user
to determine what is appropriate."

Subsequently, ALA had issued statements that discuss the use of
filers, explain some of the problems associated with filtering
software, and offer suggestions for promoting access to the Internet
without compromising adherence to the association's resolution.  Not
addressed by the ALA, however, is the critical issue of dealing with
information on the Internet that is not constitutionally protected.
The author argues that by "leaving decisions on appropriateness up to
the user, ALA leaves public librarians stranded with no real tangible
guidelines to help them provide electronic services."

Possible steps that might bring libraries and communities closer to a
solution, include:
* compelling technology vendors to provide an interface that would
allow libraries themselves to label those pornographic and obscene
sites that do not fall within constitutionally protected speech,
while still protecting intellectual freedom and 'community values'
* assistance by the ALA in defining those constitutionally unprotected
sites, perhaps by setting standards for identification libraries could
keep within the bounds of First Amendment rights; and
* librarians reasserting their responsibility for the information that
is in their libraries, whether it is on the Internet or in the stacks.

"The use of commercial filtering software as described in this paper
will inhibit access, will deny fair use and will gradually lead
librarians away from the principles that have glued the profession
together," concludes the author.  "But if librarians also eschew
responsibility for the information on the Internet," she warns, "then
they are headed down another 'slippery slope', one on which their
services will be less and less required and one from which there is no
[SOURCE: First Monday, Vol.2 No.10 - 6 October 1997,  AUTHOR: Jeannette
Allis Bastian]

After the ALA met with representatives of Internet filtering companies
on March 12, 1999, ALA representatives voiced their readiness to
revisit the ALA 1997 resolution that opposed any library use of
filtering software.  "Given where we were, this [1997 resolution] was
the right decision at the right time," said ALA President Ann Symons.
ALA leaders were pushed to acknowledge the "awkwardness of their
policies" when filter makers stated their positions.  The awkwardness
of the ALA position emerged when Steve Herb, Chair of the IFC, listed
features that ALA may want from a filtering system -- a system that
their policy opposes.

ALA President Ann Symons said she stands by the ALA's lobbying
statement: "Internet policies should be local decisions; individual
users -- not the library -- should be able to control Internet
access; and every library should have an Internet access policy".
The meeting demonstrated to the ALA that it can't ignore the diversity
of positions on filtering within the ALA, she said.

Seattle Public Library Director Deborah Jacobs said she thought
the 1997 resolution "harmed our credibility".  She was hopeful after
the meeting that the ALA was willing to rethink a policy that many
practicing librarians oppose. Symons said she would like to see the
1997 resolution be reconsidered by the (IFC) Intellectual Freedom
[SOURCE: Library Journal, (March 16, 1999)]


Children's Internet Protection Act
HR 896 Rep Bob Franks (R-NJ)/  S 97 Sen John McCain (R-AZ)

The bill would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to make an
elementary school, secondary school, or library ineligible to receive
or retain universal service assistance unless it certifies to the
Federal Communications Commission that it has selected and installed
(or will install) a technology for computers with Internet access
which filters or blocks material deemed harmful to minors.

The bill requires the determination of what shall be considered
inappropriate for minors to be made by the appropriate school, school
board, library, or other responsible authority, without Federal

Safe Schools Internet Act of 1999 (H.R. 368)
Rep Bob Franks (introduced 01/19/99)

The bill amends the Communications Act of 1934 to prohibit universal
telecommunications services from being provided to any elementary or
secondary school unless its administrator has certified to the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) that it has selected and installed
a system for computers with Internet access which filters or blocks
matters deemed inappropriate for minors.  The bill would prohibit
such service with respect to a library having Internet access unless
it certifies that it employs such a filtering or blocking system on
one or more of its computers.  The bill requires a library to notify
the FCC within ten days after changing or terminating such a system.

It also requires the determination of what shall be considered
inappropriate for minors to be made by the appropriate school, school
board, library, or other responsible authority, without Federal

Senate Hearing summary
At a Senate hearing May 20 on the proposed Children's Internet
Protection legislation, witnesses offered testimony on the
proliferation of hate, violence, and sexual content on the Internet.
Sen John McCain (R-AZ) opened the hearing by recognizing that parents
are the first line of defense against this harmful content and that
schools and libraries are partners in protecting kids especially
concerning access to the Internet as a result of the E-rate program.

Dr. Peter Nickerson, President and CEO of N2H2 -- a server-based
Internet filtering company -- testified that in a given week his staff
of 75 Web reviewers find an average of 180 hate pages, 2,500-7,500
adult and child pornography pages, 400 violence pages, and 50 murder
and suicide related pages.  The N2H2 service allows clients to select
what material should be filtered and to override a filter with a
password.  He stated that schools and libraries understand the need
for filters and most want to implement them.  If Congress cares about
filtering inappropriate materials to minors, than the funding for
filters ($.50 to $3.00 per workstation per month) should be included
in the E-rate.

Mark Potock of the Southern Poverty Law Center testified that "the
Internet has done for hate groups what the printing press has done
for literature".  A few years ago, a Klansman would have to put out
substantial effort and money to produce a pamphlet that might reach
100 people.  Today, all that is needed is a $500 computer and the
Klansman can produce a slick Web site with a potential audience of
thousands.  Hate on the Internet cannot be blocked by filters, he
said.  Web sites are constantly changing and it may take several pages
into a site before hateful content is apparent.  Instead, hate sites
should be a catalyst for thoughtful discussions between parents and

Howard Berkowitz, the National Chairman of the Anti-Defamation League,
noted that hate sites are often disguised as informative and academic
sites, such as the Holocaust-denying site of the Institute for
Historical Review.  Respecting the First Amendment, he recommends that
Congress consider requiring public libraries with multiple computers
to only monitor children's use and allow unrestricted access to

Special Agent Mark James of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms testified that publications once only marketed through
"counterculture markets" like "The Anarchist Cookbook" are now widely
available on the Internet.  From 1985-1995, 35 bombing incidents
were attributed to information on the Internet about explosives.
One solution ATF is currently pursuing involves working with Internet
Service Providers to hyperlink explosive information sites to Web
sites about the dangers of explosives.

Senator Hollings (D-SC) asked if the Children's Internet Protection
Act could really work to block kids from inappropriate material.
Dr. Nickerson answered, "it works where it is in place, but kids
can always get around it".  Mr. Berkowitz said that filtering should
be voluntary.  He raised the concern of who will decide what should
be filtered.  Sen McCain replied that the bill would require schools
and libraries to filter the Internet according to community standards,
as they decide what books to put on the shelves.  "Or a community
may choose not to use it all," he said.  The bill allows local
determination of which Web sites are harmful to minors, but a library
must certify it has installed a filter to block information harmful
to minors in order to receive E-rate funding for Internet connection.

In the states
In addition to pending federal legislation, twelve states have
proposed filtering legislation.  The state bills are similar to the
federal Children's Internet Protection Act and Safe Schools Internet
Act in requiring that public schools and libraries implement filters.
The states currently examining possible filtering laws, according to
Filtering Facts, are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana,
Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia, and


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