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I'm working on my article for Library Technology Reports on library filtering. In researching the article, I'm speaking with library personnel to hear more about their experience with filters. I'm finding a disturbing trend. The belief that just because patrons don't complain about a blocked site, the filter must be working properly.
I just got back from a Pennsylvania where I spoke to four groups of librarians there on the topic of filtering technology. Bob Bocher was there too. He spoke on CIPA and clarified (to the extent possible) how the rules work.
The text of each of our presentations can be found below:
Did you know that you don't have to comply with CIPA filtering requirements unless you are getting E-Rate discounts on your Internet access, using LSTA money to pay for Internet access, or you are using LSTA money to buy computers that will have Internet access. If you knew that...so far so good. Now, here's the loophole.
If your Internet provider is registered as a common carrier with the FCC, you can get E-Rate discounts on that too, without having to filter. Reason is, FCC considers any data provided by the common carrier as "telecommunications."
Now, can anyone help me figure out who the common carriers are here in California and whether any of them offer Internet access?????
Section 1703(a) of CIPA requests that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) initiate a notice and comment proceeding to determine whether currently available blocking and filtering technologies adequately address the needs of educational institutions. Well, the Report is out and it states that the currently available technology measures do indeed have the capacity to meet most if not all of the needs of educational institutions. Hooray! That's a relief.
[....hopefully you hear the irony in my voice...]
Do you wonder how they came up with that? Well, they relied upon the comments received in response to their notice in the Federal Register. They seemed particularly convinced by the comments of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). The ACLJ states the following:
"...a vast amount of information has been produced both supporting and criticizing internet filtering devices. In light of this background, the ACLJ recommends that, rather than looking at single advocacy studies conducted by such groups as the ACLU, a better approach is to look at independent lab tests conducted over the past several years by entities that are not interested in either promoting or discouraging filtering software use and that do not conduct research with any specific advocacy goal in mind (except benefitting the consumer)."
The ACLJ then provides Exhibit A (pdf) as an example of a more objective report. Exhibit A, aka "The Facts on Filtering" is written by David Burt of N2H2, one of the biggest filtering companies on the market. In his report, he describes the results of 26 reports done by PC Magazine, PC Week, Consumer Reports, PC World, and others. The results of Mr. Burt's unbiased report seem to have convinced NTIA that filters meet the needs of our schools.
Silly me, I expected NTIA to actually make an effort to evaluate filtering products and offer up some useful feedback....
Mary Minow did a great presentation today on CIPA and its ramifications. It is available as an archive from Infopeople. One of the very interesting points she made was that the CIPA regs only apply to visual depictions of the various forbidden categories of things. So I emailed Surfcontrol, WebSense, Smartfilter, iPrism, CyberPatrol and Symantec to find out if their filter product could be set up to turn the "blocked" site into a text-only site. Seems possible to me and wouldn't that be a much better solution! Stay tuned.
With all the hoopla about the Supreme Court decision to allow CIPA to stand, it is incumbent on all current and potential filter users to learn how Internet content filtering products work. I see post after post on the discussion lists that make it clear to me that people don't know how they work, what options they have for controlling how they work and think one product works the same as another. In some cases, the lack of understanding has to do with the fact that the products are maintained by administrators "upstream" (the county for example).