The use of Internet filters to block constitutionally protected speech, including content on social networking and gaming sites, compromises First Amendment freedoms and the core values of librarianship. Internet safety for children and adults is best addressed through educational programs that teach people how to find and evaluate information.
Research demonstrates that filters consistently both over- and underblock the content they claim to filter. Filters often block adults and minors from accessing a wide range of constitutionally protected speech. Content filters are unreliable because computer code and algorithms are still unable to adequately interpret, assess, and categorize the complexities of human communication, whether expressed in text or in image.
"The negative effects of content filters on Internet access in public libraries and schools are demonstrable and documented. Consequently, consistent with previous resolutions, the American Library Association cannot recommend filtering. However, the ALA recognizes that local libraries and schools are governed by local decision makers and local considerations and often must rely on federal or state funding for computers and internet access. Because adults and, to a lesser degree minors, have First Amendment rights, libraries and schools that choose to use content filters should implement policies and procedures that mitigate the negative effects of filtering to the greatest extent possible. The process should encourage and allow users to ask for filtered websites and content to be unblocked, with minimal delay and due respect for user privacy."
ALA Statements and Policies on Internet Filtering and Access to Online Information
Internet Filtering: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2015) (Full Text)
Minors and Internet Interactivity, An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2014)
The digital environment offers opportunities for accessing, creating, and sharing information. The rights of minors to retrieve, interact with, and create information posted on the Internet in schools and libraries are extensions of their First Amendment rights.
Access to Digital Information, Services, and Networks, An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2009)
Freedom of expression is an inalienable human right and the foundation for self-government. Freedom of expression encompasses the freedom of speech and the corollary right to receive information. Libraries and librarians protect and promote these rights by selecting, producing, providing access to, identifying, retrieving, organizing, providing instruction in the use of, and preserving recorded expression regardless of the format or technology.
Statement on Library Use of Filtering Software (1997)
On June 26, 1997, the United States Supreme Court in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844 (1997), issued a sweeping reaffirmation of core First Amendment principles and held that communications over the Internet deserve the highest level of Constitutional protection.
International Statements on the Internet and Access to Online Information
Internet Manifesto (2014)
International Federation of Libraries / FAIFE (Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression)
ALA Publications and Toolkits
Guidelines to Minimize the Negative Effects of Internet Content Filters on Intellectual Freedom (2017)
ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee
Guidelines to provide public and school libraries with information about how to select, configure, manage, and assess content filters to minimize the negative effects on free inquiry and the privacy of library users.
Intellectual Freedom Manual (2015)
Edited by Trina Magi and Martin Garnar with ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
The 9th edition manual is an indispensable resource for day-to-day guidance on maintaining free and equal access to information for all people with a chapter titled "Censorship, Challenged Resources, and Internet Filtering".
Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children's Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later (2014)
By Kristen R. Batch with ALA Office for Information Technology Policy and ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
Libraries and the Internet Toolkit (2012)
ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee
Tips and guidance for managing and communicating about the internet.
Filtering and the First Amendment (2013)
By Deborah Caldwell Stone published in American Libraries
Minors' First Amendment Rights: CIPA and School Libraries (2010)
By Theresa Chmara published in AASL's Knowledge Quest
Internet Filtering (2010)
By Sarah Houghton published in Library Technology Reports
Why Filters Won't Protect Children or Adults (2004)
By Nancy Kranich published in Library Administration & Management
Lester Asheim in Cyberspace: A Tribute to Sound Reasoning (2002)
By June Pinnell-Stevens published in American Libraries
Articles and White Papers on Filtering
The Inconsistent Work of Web Filters: Mapping Information Access in Alabama Public Schools and Libraries (2017)
By Chris Petersen, Shannon M. Oltmann, and Emily J.M. Knox, published in the International Journal of Communication
Access Still Denied: How School Internet Filtering Violates State Law And Hinders Academic Freedom (December 2017)
by the ACLU of Rhode Island
Internet Filtering Technology and Aversive Online Experiences in Adolescents (2017)
By Andrew K. Przybylski and Victoria Nash published in the Journal of Pediatrics
"Contrary to our hypotheses, policy, and industry advice regarding the assumed benefits of filtering we found convincing evidence that Internet filters were not effective at shielding early adolescents from aversive online experiences."
Website Blocked: Filtering Technology in Schools and School Libraries (2014)
By Jennifer Overaa published in the SJSU School of Information Student Research Journal
Access Denied: How Internet Filtering in Schools Harms Public Education (February 2013)
by the ACLU of Rhode Island
Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and E-rate
Children's Internet Protection Act
Information provided by the ALA Office of Government Relations
United States v. American Library Association, 539 U.S. 194 (2003)
Legal Briefs filed in United States v. American Library Association (CIPA Before the Supreme Court)
E-rate and Universal Service
Information provided by the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy
FCC Report and Order 11-125, August 21, 2011 (report and regulations implementing CIPA)
CIPA: A Brief FAQ on Public Library Compliance (2012)
By Bob Bocher with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Library Internet Filtering Update (2012)
By Theresa Chmara with Freedom to Read Foundation
Why Recent Court Decisions Don’t Change the Rules on Filtering (2012)
By Theresa Chmara published in American Libraries
State Laws Relating to Filtering, Blocking, and Usage Policies in Schools and Libraries (2016)
National Conference of State Legislatures (updated periodically)
(Note: The American Library Association does not endorse or recommend any internet filtering software. These resources are provided for those interested in learning more about the operation and effectiveness of filtering software.)
Deloitte Risk Services, Synthesis Report: Test and benchmark of products and services to voluntarily filter Internet content for children between 6 and 16 years, 2008 (Prepared for the European Union's “Safer Internet plus Programme”)
Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report (2006)
By Heins, M., Cho, C. and Feldman, A.,
Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, Free Expression Policy Project
Internet Filtering Software Tests: Barracuda, CyberPatrol, FilterGate, & WebSense(2008)
Sarah Houghton and the San José Public Library
The Effectiveness of Internet Content Filters (2008)
Philip B. Stark
I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society
Internet filtering companies with religious affiliations in the context of Indiana public libraries (2007)
By R. Radom published in LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal
Parental controls: advice for parents, researchers and industry (2016)
By Bieke Zaman and Marije Nouwen
Championing Internet Access for Students on Banned Websites Awareness Day . Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians (AASL)
Featured Speakers: Doug Archer, Bob Bocher, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Jamie LaRue, Michael Robinson
Recorded: September 2015
How to be a Ninja Warrior Filter Fighter! Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians (AASL)
Featured Speakers: Gwyneth Jones
Recorded: September 2014
Additional Resources on Internet Filtering, Digital Rights, and Online Safety
American Library Association/Association for Library Service to Children, Great Web Sites for Kids
American Civil Liberties Union
"The ACLU believes in an uncensored Internet, a vast free-speech zone deserving at least as much First Amendment protection as that afforded to traditional media such as books, newspapers, and magazines."
- Governor Mifflin School District And Filtering Of LGBT Online Content
- Pflag v. Camdenton R-III School District
- Franks v. Metropolitan Board of Public Education
"ConnectSafely.org is a Silicon Valley, Calif.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating users of connected technology about safety, privacy and security. Here you’ll find research-based safety tips, parents’ guidebooks, advice, news and commentary on all aspects of tech use and policy."
Electronic Frontier Foundation
"EFF defends the Internet as a platform for free speech, and believes that when you go online, your rights should come with you."
Open Net Initiative (2014)
"Internet censorship and surveillance are growing global phenomena. ONI’s mission is to identify and document Internet filtering and surveillance, and to promote and inform wider public dialogues about such practices".
- About Filtering (2014)
"Peacefire.org was created in August 1996 to represent the interests of people under 18 in the debate over freedom of speech on the Internet."
Assistance and Consultation
The staff of the Office for Intellectual Freedom is available to answer questions or provide assistance to librarians, trustees, educators and the public about internet filtering. Areas of assistance include policy development, First Amendment issues, and professional ethics. Inquiries can be directed via email to email@example.com or via phone at 800-545-2433, extension 4220.