ALA presents expert testimony on filter failures at CIPA trial

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Archived Press Release
Originally posted March 27, 2002

Day two of the American Library Association's (ALA) challenge to the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) focused on expert testimony regarding the failure of filters to block all illegal content, as required by the law. Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg, an expert on the Internet and automated classification systems, discussed his research at Stanford University and Xerox PARC that outlines the limitations of blocking software.

"With more than 27 million Web sites, and the average Web page turning over every 44 days, the Internet is a very dynamic tool," said ALA President John W. Berry. "Filters are technologically incapable of making the fine distinction between information that is 'good' and that which is 'bad.' They do not work today, and they will not work in the future."

Web sites filtered as of late yesterday include Salon.com and teenwire.com. Nunberg also testified to his research and writing in the magazine The American Prospect. In his article "The Internet Filter Farce," Nunberg explains how and why filters fail. To see the article, go to www.prospect.org/print/V12/1/nunberg-g.html.

Also on the stand for the ALA was Christopher Hunter, a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Pennsylvania. Hunter has tested the effectiveness of four popular blocking software programs and analyzed more than 40 other studies of blocking software. He testified to the overblocking and underblocking common in commercial software. His master's thesis can be found at: http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/ifissues/hunterthesis.pdf (PDF).

"While many libraries offer a filtering option to their users, it clearly doesn't make sense to mandate their use in public libraries," Berry said. "Instead of relying on blocking technology, we must teach our children, not only the difference between right and wrong, but also how to use information wisely. There are no quick fixes. Parents and librarians need to continue working together."

Also taking the stand yesterday were: Dr. Joseph Janes, assistant professor at The Information School of the University of Washington in Seattle; Emmalyn Rood, a 16-year-old library user; Mark Brown, a Philadelphia Free Library user; Dr. Michael Ryan, director of the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; and Dr. Jonathan Bertman, president and medical director of plaintiff Afraid to Ask.com, Inc. of Saunderstown, R.I.

At the end of the day, the Court recessed until Thursday, March 28, when the trial will resume at 9:15 a.m. EST with the government's witnesses.

CIPA and the Neighborhood Children's Internet Protection Act (NCIPA) were signed into law December 21, 2000. CIPA mandates the use of blocking technology for public libraries that seek Universal Service discounts (E-rate) for Internet access, Internet service or internal connections, or that seek Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds to purchase computers for Internet access or to pay for Internet access. The ALA and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed lawsuits challenging the law in March 2001. The cases were combined and are being heard by a three-judge panel made up of two district and one appellate court judge. People for the American Way is serving as supporting counsel for the ALA challenge.

For more information and updates on CIPA and the legal challenge, please go to ALA's CIPA page.


Copyright © 2002, American Library Association.
Last Modified: Tuesday, 02-Apr-2002 11:44:50 CST