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Educating CIPA

I’ve been working on a top-ten list about CIPA and filtering, trying to boil down the ten points I’d like to get across to librarians and stakeholders regardless of their status with respect to this issue. This is a bloggish draft; I welcome input and thoughts.

1. Filters block Constitutionally-protected speech. This is a fact not disputed in the CIPA decision. (The Court reasoned that disabling filters on request was an adequate remediation for this problem.)

2. CIPA only applies to E-Rate (and in some cases LSTA), and only applies for Internet connection costs. CIPA has no impact on libraries not accepting E-Rate or LSTA, or only accepting E-Rate or LSTA money for costs unrelated to Internet connections.

3. CIPA, as described in the law and unchallenged by the FCC, requires libraries to filter all computers, for staff as well as the public.

4. The Supreme Court believes it is easy for librarians to disable filters on a case-by-case basis.

5. The CIPA decision and subsequent FCC and IMLS interpretations did not clarify whether adults are legally entitled to unfiltered access on request.

6. Filters hide blocked sites in encrypted lists, eliminating accountability on their end and sunshine on our end. This was not discussed in the CIPA decision and is probably irrelevant as far as future court cases are concerned (which does not make this point unimportant).

7. At least one Supreme Court justice reasoned that litigation at the local level is an appropriate mechanism for sorting out the fuzzier areas of CIPA compliance, which raises the spectre of at least one “Son of Loudoun.”

8. CIPA did nothing to clarify First Amendment law with respect to public libraries and similar institutions, and in fact may have significantly muddied the law through its emphasis on “public forums” at the expense of exploring the less trafficked territories of “restrictions imposed on public institutions that are designed for the purpose of disseminating information,” as discussed in “A Missed Opportunity,” Bob Corn-Revere’s article in the September issue of the Cato Supreme Court Review.

9. Because E-Rate is an after-service reimbursement, creative solutions to CIPA filtering requirements are somewhat of a crapshoot. The technical aspects of “disabling” Internet filters were not addressed in CIPA, and the FCC did not clarify. This means it is unknown, to use two commonly-discussed examples, if it is CIPA-compliant to allow adult users to disable filters through a signed form or through self-selection on a Web screen.

10. It may seem that every library in the world is filtering, but that’s not the case at all. Many libraries have chosen not to filter (and remember, CIPA doesn’t give libraries much latitude for filtering–it’s all or nothing). We don’t hear about these libraries because staying low-profile is a strategy, but nonetheless, if you aren’t filtering all or most of the computers in your library, you are not alone.

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