Filters and Filtering

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.

ALA Statements and Policies on Internet Filtering and Access to Online Information

Internet Filtering:  An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2015)

Resolution on Opposition to Federally Mandated Internet Filtering  (2001)

Statement on Library Use of Filtering Software  (1997)

Minors and Internet Interactivity, An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2014)

Access to Digital Information, Services, and Networks, An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2009)

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)

Publications, Articles and Toolkits

Libraries and the Internet Toolkit:Tips and Guidance for Managing and Communicating about the Internet, ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, 2012.

Batch, Kristen R., Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children's Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later. Policy Brief No. 5, June 2014. ALA Office for Information Technology Policy and ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. 

Caldwell-Stone, Deborah, Filtering and the First Amendment, American Libraries, March/April 2013.

Chmara, Theresa, Minors' First Amendment Rights: CIPA and School Libraries, Knowledge Quest, vol. 39, number 1, September-October 2010, American Association of School Libraries.

Houghton, Sarah, Internet Filtering Library Technology Reports, number 8, November-December 2010, 25-33. 

Kranich, Nancy,  Why Filters Won't Protect Children or Adults Library Administration & Management, vol. 18, number 1, Winter 2004,14-18.

Magi, T. and Garnar, M. eds., Intellectual Freedom Manual, Ninth Edition, "Censorship, Challenged Resources, and Internet Filtering," ALA Editions, 2015, 77-114.

Overaa, Jennifer, Website Blocked: Filtering Technology in Schools and School Libraries, SJSU School of Information Student Research Journal, 4(2), 2014

Pinnell-Stevens, June, Lester Asheim in Cyberspace: A Tribute to Sound Reasoning.  American Libraries, October 2002, 70-72.

Thornburg, R. and Lin,, H. editors, Youth, Pornography and the Internet, National Academies Press, 2002.

Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and E-rate

Text of the Children's Internet Protection Act

Children's Internet Protection Act (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, ALA Office for Information Technology Policy

FCC Report and Order 11-125, August 21, 2011 (report and regulations implementing CIPA)

Bocher, Bob, CIPA: A Brief FAQ on Public Library ComplianceWisconsin Department of Public Instruction February 2012.

Chmara, Theresa, Library Internet Filtering UpdateFreedom to Read Foundation, 2012.

Chmara, Theresa, Why Recent Court Decisions Don’t Change the Rules on Filtering, American Libraries July/August 2012.

State Laws Relating to Filtering, Blocking, and Usage Policies in Schools and Libraries, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015.

Filtering Software 

(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.)

Ayre, Lori Bowen and the Galecia Group, 2009-2015
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”)
Heins, M., Cho, C. and Feldman, A., Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report, Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, Free Expression Policy Project, 2006
Houghton-Jan, Sarah, and the San José Public Library, Internet Filtering Software Tests: Barracuda, CyberPatrol, FilterGate, & WebSenseApril 2, 2008
Stark, Philip B., The Effectiveness of Internet Content Filters, I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, 2008 (download)
Radom, R. Internet filtering companies with religious affiliations in the context of Indiana public libraries, LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal, September 2007, 17(2)
Willard, Nancy, Filtering Software: The Religious Connection; also see the  summary and links to individual reports. (Eugene, OR: Responsible Netizen, February 24, 2002).

Additional Resources on Internet Filtering, Digital Rights, and Online Safety

American Library Association/Association for Library Service to Children,  Great Web Sites for Kids

Kranich, N., and American Library Association/Office for Intellectual Freedom, Useful Sources, The Children's Internet Protection Act, 2004

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."

 ConnectSafely " 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."

NetSmartz for Parents and NetSmartz for KidsNational Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 2001-2015

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".

Peacefire " was created in August 1996 to represent the interests of people under 18 in the debate over freedom of speech on the Internet." Digital Citizenship, Online Safety, and Civility

Wired Safety Web site

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 or via phone at 800-545-2433, extension 4220.