Schools and the Children’s Internet Protection Act
Two studies commissioned by Congress, “Youth, Pornography, and the Internet,” a report published in May 2002 by the National Research Council, and the Final Report of the Child Online Protection Commission (COPA), presented to Congress, October 20, 2000, found that the most effective and least intrusive way to protect our children from objectionable material on the Internet is through online information resources and family education programs.
A report forthcoming in October 2002 from the Electronic Frontier Foundation finds that schools that implement Internet blocking software with the least restrictive settings will block between a half percent and five percent of search results based on state-mandated curriculum topics. Those that implement Internet blocking software with the most restrictive settings will block up to 70 percent of those searches.
Information from ALA: Background
On May 31, a three-judge panel of the federal court in Philadelphia ruled unanimously that the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was unconstitutional as applied to public libraries. The opinion was written by Chief Judge Edward R. Becker of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and joined by U.S. District Judges John P. Fullam and Harvey Bartle, III.
Subsequently, the government filed its notice of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on June 20. A briefing schedule for the case will be set this fall.
The three-judge panel held that CIPA is unconstitutional because the mandated use of blocking technology on all computers will result in blocked access to substantial amounts of constitutionally protected speech. The Court found that filters both overblock (block access to protected speech) and underblock (allow access to illegal or unconstitutional speech).
The Court permanently enjoined the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which respectively oversee the e-rate and Library Services Technology Act programs, from withholding funds from public libraries that have chosen not to install blocking technology on all Internet-ready terminals. As a result, public libraries are not required to install filters on their computers in order to receive funds from either agency.
While the CIPA decision applies solely to public libraries, the extensive factual findings by the Court holding that filters block a substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech for adults and minors applies equally to the filters used by schools and school libraries. The American Library Association (ALA) believes this decision will be very helpful to any school group that chooses to challenge the CIPA provisions as they apply to schools. We also believe this decision will be helpful to school administrators and school librarians deciding whether to use filters in the school context in that it provides a very thorough and careful analysis of how filters work.
The ALA remains firmly committed to supporting the school community in any legal effort by school groups to challenge the constitutionality of the Children’s Internet Protection Act in the school context.
Links to ALA Information
Children’s Internet Protection Act and School Libraries: A page prepared by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL).
Other News and Information
Complying with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and the Neighborhood Children’s Internet Protection Act (N-CIPA): “On May 31, 2002, the CIPA filtering mandate for public libraries was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court. The court’s order prevents the government from enforcing the filtering provision . . . The decision affects only public libraries. Schools must still meet CIPA filtering requirements. The Neighborhood Children’s Internet Protection Act (NCIPA) is not part of the court’s decision. Libraries and schools receiving E-rate must still have an Internet safety policy that meets NCIPA requirements . . . For most applicants, NCIPA requirements must [have been] met by July 1, 2002.”
Watchdogs bark at filter law (September 19, 2002): “Free speech proponents are stepping up their fight against Internet filtering in schools, waging a grassroots campaign against a law that requires Web blocking as a condition of federal funding.”
Watchdogs launch attack on filter law (September 18, 2002)
“The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union () are asking people to send letters to their public school board members and congressional representatives, urging them to fight the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). ”
Filters, Schools Like Oil, Water: “Elfrank-Dana’s class ended up doing its research at home, as getting sites unblocked proved too bureaucratic.”
Why filtering laws just won’t work: “To suggest, however, as some pro-censorship groups have, that public libraries will turn into ‘peep shows’ without a mandatory filtering law is not only false and inflammatory, but it disregards the many reasonable options that exist to protect children.”
Sites Blocked by Internet Filtering Programs: “In the course of a pending ACLU challenge to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (PDF), I was asked to design and implement systems to identify particular web sites that are blocked by four specific Internet filtering programs but which do not fit within the programs’ self-defined categories for blocking. I was also asked to identify and describe the capabilities and flaws of widely-used Internet blocking systems. This web site reports a portion of this work and a portion of my written report. My testing focused on Surfcontrol Cyber Patrol 6, N2H2 Internet Filtering 2.0, Secure Computing SmartFilter 3.0, and Websense Enterprise 4.3. My expert report includes specific programs and sites tested, specific testing methodology, and results.”—Edelman Expert Report for Multnomah County Public Library et al., vs. United States of America, et al.
Filtered for Your Viewing Pleasure: “Other manufacturers recognize the political potential of filters and use it to their own ends. The most notorious of these is Cybersitter, which would not allow you to read this page on the Web, nor Mother Jones, the NOW site, any gay or lesbian sites, or even sites devoted to arguments about software filters. When one teenager set up a site in 1996 to protest filtering software, his name and site were blocked by Cybersitter and the company contacted his service provider to try to cut his account. Two years later, the company sent an e-mail bomb to another opponent. (Cybersitter said it was done by a ‘frustrated technical support employee.’) Cybersitter’s right-wing agenda is not mentioned on its site or in any of its promotional material, and since it keeps its filtering criteria private, consumers can’t easily tell how it skews searches.”