Libraries and the Internet Toolkit
ALA and Filtering
The role of ALA is to recommend policies that uphold the highest ideals of our profession and nation—the freedom to read and receive information as defined by the United States Constitution and courts of law. Local libraries adopt their own policies to uphold this ideal and address the specific needs of their communities.
Although ALA did not prevail in having the Children's Internet Protection Act declared unconstitutional (for the latest information on CIPA and post-CIPA, see ALA's CIPA page at http://www.ala.org/cipa and the CIPA section of the Libraries and the Internet Tool Kit), ALA's efforts yielded important and tangible benefits to libraries and library users. The Justices ruled that CIPA is constitutional only if the mandated filters can be readily disabled upon the request of adult library users. Users do not have to explain why they are making the request.
Most importantly, despite the CIPA ruling, which permits the government to require libraries receiving certain kinds of federal funding to filter, ALA policy is unchanged. ALA does not recommend the use in libraries of filtering technology that blocks constitutionally protected information.
Numerous studies, including those by the National Research Council, the U.S. Children's Online Protection Act Commission, and the Kaiser Family Foundation, have documented that filters fail to block many sites banned under CIPA as well as overblock hundreds of thousands of perfectly legal, useful sites. Expert witnesses representing both the plaintiffs and the government in the CIPA case corroborated these findings that are well documented in the Court findings. In addition to underblocking and overblocking, the Kaiser Family Foundation study also found that filters set above the lowest settings block another 50 percent of legal sites but only an additional 4 percent of sites banned by CIPA. Therefore, ALA urges libraries that choose to install filters to set their filters at the least restrictive level in order to minimize the blocking of Constitutionally protected speech. 1 ALA also recommends that all libraries educate the general public on this issue, as well as library staff.
As with every other challenge to the First Amendment rights of library users, ALA encourages libraries to contact the Office for Intellectual Freedom:
- For assistance and advice regarding the installation of filters; and
- To report incidents of problems related to filters in their libraries.
This information will help ALA to document the effect CIPA has on access to information and to lobby for changes in the law. In addition, states will be able to use this information in their efforts to limit similar state legislation.
It is important to remember that a major purpose of libraries is to empower their users by providing them with the information they want or need. To fulfill this responsibility, libraries must provide access to the broadest range of information. The Internet allows librarians to do this better than ever before.
ALA strongly encourages local libraries to adopt and implement Internet use policies that protect public access to information and promote a positive online experience. The ALA has prepared several documents to help local libraries develop policies and programs that address these concerns (see section on Helpful Resources) .
ALA upholds the right and responsibility of parents to guide their children's library use, including their Internet use. ALA encourages parents to learn about this important resource so they can guide their children and encourages local libraries to offer instruction for children and adults in how to use the Internet safely and effectively.
1"Consumer Reports' latest tests of filtering software (June 2005) show that while Internet blockers have gotten better at blocking pornography, the best also tend to block many sites they shouldn't. In addition, Consumer Reports found the software to be less effective at blocking sites promoting hatred, illegal drugs or violence. The June issue includes ratings of 11 popular filtering software products and advice for concerned parents who are trying to better protect their children online. . . . Filters kept out most, but not all, of the pornography. The worst performer blocked 88 percent, enough to serve as an obstacle, but not impervious to a persistent teen. — Information sites can be snubbed, too. The best porn blockers were heavy-handed against sites about health issues, sex education, civil rights and politics."