Director, American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom
On ALA vs. United States
Challenge to the Children’s Internet Protection Act
I would like to put Nancy Kranich’s remarks in a context. Librarians play a unique role in our society; we bring people together with the information they need and want. Librarians do this by making sure libraries have information and ideas across the spectrum of social and political thought, so people can choose what they want to read or view or listen to. Since libraries provide information for all the people in their community, librarians find, from time to time, that not all of their users agree with all of the material they have acquired. Some users find materials in their local library collection to be untrue, offensive, harmful, or even dangerous. But libraries serve the information needs of all of the people in the community—not just the loudest, not just the most powerful, not even just the majority. Libraries serve everyone.
The importance of having the broad range of information and ideas available is that it enables us to be a nation of self-governors. We live in a constitutional republic—a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. But this form of government does not function effectively unless its electorate is enlightened. The electorate must have information available and accessible. And it does—in our nation’s libraries.
In today’s world, that information is available in a variety of formats—books, magazines, films, videos, CD ROM’s, sound recordings, paintings, sculpture, etc. To this mix, we have now added electronic communication, specifically, the Internet, the most important—and exciting—communication revolution since the invention of the printing press. But the format in which information is found doesn’t change our role of bringing people together with information they need or want.
The problem with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and the Neighborhood Children’s Internet Protection Act (NCIPA) is that they limit the ability of libraries to fulfill their reason for being. Filters are mechanical devises unable to think or make judgements. Furthermore, have been shown to be both under- and over-inclusive.
- In other words, current blocking/filtering software not only permits access to what some may consider objectionable material, but also blocks information protected by the First Amendment. The result is that valuable, useful, and legal information inevitably is blocked. For instance, sites that have been blocked by popular commercial blocking/filtering products include those on breast cancer, AIDS, women’s rights, animal rights, Native-American Indian sites, the American Association of University women, indeed all groups known as “associations,” the FBI, eBay, 30 candidates’ sites in the November election, including Dick Armey’s site, and the Mars exploration, which has the URL of MARSEXPL. Persons with names such as Couples and Babcock have been blocked.
- The filter manufacturers consider their black lists proprietary information and most, therefore, will not reveal what they block or how.
- Even the filtering manufacturers admit it is impossible to block all undesirable material. The Web is too vast and changes too quickly for filters to be effective. How vast? There are three billion publicly available Web pages. The average life span of a Web Page is approximately 44 days. In addition, everyday, four to seven million new Web pages are created, and some 50 million existing pages change their content. No wonder filters can’t keep up!
- Filters give parents a false sense of security.
For all of these reasons, then, filters are not appropriate for libraries. Rather than filters, the American Library Association believes the solution is education. It is only through education that young people can learn self responsibility which ultimately is the internal filter that is going to stay with them throughout childhood, young adulthood and into maturity.