A Look At Library Filtering
from the increasing... dept
In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that, despite objections from librarians, it was perfectly legal for the federal government to require internet content filters on all library computers if they wanted to receive federal funds. Since most filters are pretty bad, this created some ridiculous situations, such as some librarian patrons being unable to view perfectly legitimate websites. Many libraries, in fact, declared that they believed that the freedom to access any information you wanted was more important than federal tax dollars, and agreed to go without filters (and federal cash). However, how big a population is that? A new study has been conducted, saying that 59.5% of libraries comply with the law and filter all of their computers. Another 5% don’t fully comply, but do filter some computers. That means over 40% have basically given up on federal funds in exchange for trusting their patrons to act responsibly. Of course, the year before the Supreme Court ruling, that number was closer to 60%. As the link above notes, however, it’s not at all clear how the libraries are filtering. It’s certainly possible that they could be following the letter of the ruling, but not the real intent. That is, a library could install a “filter” that blocks almost nothing. Who gets to determine what level of filtering is appropriate?
Comments on “A Look At Library Filtering”
I don’t have any problem with requiring filtering. Yes, I know filtering will have false positives and negatives, but, for children, it’s better than nothing, I think. The other arguments against filtering never really rang true to me.
The biggest argument against filtering was that it violated the First Amendment. Horse crap. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression (more or less); it does not guarantee an audience. Nobody is prevented from publishing anything if libraries are required to filter things, so there are no First Amendment issues.
The second biggest argument was that filtering was censorship. However, libraries have had filters in place almost since they began. They were called the Purchasing Department. Go into a library and ask to see their collection of hard core pornography and see what they say.
Yes, with limited funds, purchasing was a de facto filter. With the Internet, there’s really no need to purchase things and filtering can cost some money. However, the point is that there were filters in place before the Internet, so keeping them there isn’t really all that much different.
The third biggest argument I’ve seen against filtering is that, by using a lowest common denominator approach, it restricts an adult’s access to the Internet to protect children. I do have some sympathy with that argument, but I also devised a simple fix. If a user provided valid ID to the librarian showing that he was an adult, the librarian would take his ID and turn the filter off. When the user was done, he’d go pick up his ID and the librarian would turn the filters back on. That simple process would make this argument moot.
Re: Library Filtering
You’re totally missing the point on this one.
No one was against libraries filtering. They were against libraries being TOLD they MUST have filtering. Shouldn’t it be up to the libraries and the communities they serve to decide?
Secondly, the requirement was that *all* computers have filtering, including those only used by adults and employees. This seems to go beyond what’s necessary.
Re: Re: Library Filtering
An important ruling that was also made (forgive me but a google should get it) was that the library patron could request the filtering disabled NO QUESTIONS ASKED and the library could comply.
Granted, one must know one’s rights to be able to exercise them.
Missing The Point?
Sorry, Mike, but I think you’re missing the point.
Nobody was against filtering as long as the library made the decision? Really? You don’t think there are plently of people who would object for the same three reasons I mentioned previously? I suspect there are plenty in the EFF and ACLU who would object.
Even assuming you were exaggerating, as your story specifically mentioned, libraries were not told that they must filter; they were told that only libraries that filtered would get federal funds. And, as your story mentioned, plenty of libraries chose to not filter.
Restrictions on federal funding aren’t new. Back in the 70s gas crisis, I believe states were told they would lose federal road funds if they didn’t lower speed limits to 55. The states could choose not to do that, of course. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples where federal funds come with strings attached, so why is this any worse?
If that’s true, I agree that computers used only by employees shouldn’t need to be filtered (unless the library has employees who aren’t adults). However, when you said “all library computers”, I assumed that referred to computers available to patrons because you didn’t emphasize that point. So, while I may have missed that point, it’s easy to see how as it wasn’t very clear.
Furthermore, how do you know that a computer would be used only by adults? Do some libraries have adults-only sections with bouncers to card people entering them?
Re: Missing The Point?
You think it’s okay that the federal government is withholding funds just because libraries think filters would be bad for their community?
Of course, my other complaint with this ruling is that, not only are their false positives in filtering, but that filtering leads to a huge false sense of security. The filters not only block out legitimate content, but fail to block plenty of bad content. However, parents will think their kids are safe because of “the filters.” The real answer is that if kids are using a computer in a library, it should be somewhere where an adult can watch over them to make sure they’re not getting into trouble. That seems like a much better solution than requiring pointless filters for everyone.
Re: Re: We don't need no stinkin' filters ...
Our local library does have adult & children sections.
And it has computers in the adult & children’s sections.
Why must my library comply with some inane filitering law in order to get back a small carrot of MY tax dollars to install software I neither want nor need ?
Wouldn’t it be nice if the public could turn this tide and say: ” Government, if you don’t comply with OUR states chosen standards then we will withold our tax dollars to the Federal budget ?
Good Or Bad?
I didn’t make any value judgement on whether it was OK or not. I merely said that I don’t have a problem with. The people who do usually give reasons that are incorrect or, in the case of false positives and negatives, don’t suggest any better alternative.
Yes, it would be great if kids could always have adult supervision, but this isn’t the 50s. More and more families require two incomes. Libraries don’t have the staffing to supervise a bunch of children that closely, and I suspect increasing staffing to do so would cost far more than the filtering software.
Good Or Bad?
Oops, I accidentally hit Submit….
One reason that I’m in favor of the .xxx top-level domain is to make filtering much better. I would give all adult .com sites the equivalent .xxx domain; .net and other domains would have to fend for themselves (unless the .com domain was not an adult site). I’d allow redirection for some period after the law passed to ensure patrons of those sites found the new sites, and then I would make it illegal to have adult content on a non-xxx domain.
After that period of time, libraries would only need to filter .xxx domains and perhaps some sites based outside of the U.S.
As for the government forcing things on communities, this isn’t anything new. There are laws restricting recreational drugs and regulations (I think) prohibiting federal funding to abortion clinics. As I mentioned before, denying funding to groups you disagree with isn’t anything new (ask the NEA) and I don’t see why this issue is that much different.
In fact, because people could still get adult sites in their homes, this seems less onerous than prohibiting recreational drugs entirely or denying funds to abortion clinics (try getting an in-home abortion).