IF WE MUST HAVE FILTERS...
an exchange of correspondence between Marylaine Block and Jay Currie, e-mail: jay-currie at shaw.ca , http://www.libraryfilter.blogspot.com. Jay practiced intellectual property law for seven years before becoming an editor, writer, and consultant.
Like it or not SCOTUS has ruled that any library which has internet access and receives federal funds is required to comply with the Children's Internet Protection Act. Which means installing filters on every internet enabled computer in the library. I work with a company which provides Internet filtering solutions to individuals, organizations and companies [IF 2003]. One to 5000 seats or full on server side filtering.
We would love to get feedback from librarians on what they really need and want in filtering technology. It would be great if you could mention our need for feedback in your newsletter. And it would be even better if you could give me your thoughts on making filtering less obnoxious in the library setting.
Thanks for asking. I'll tell you what I would want if I was working in a school or public library and had to accept filtering:
1) CONTROL: the ability to choose what level and subject matter is blocked, and the ability to overrule your blocking decisions and reinstate URLs that were incorrectly blocked
2) AN ADVISORY ROLE: when we report sites that were incorrectly blocked, you correct your database
3) NO AGENDA: many filter systems have an ideological bias toward conservative philosophy and "family values" which not everybody shares.
4) HUMAN OVERSIGHT -- before you block anything that has been machine-culled, subject it to human scrutiny. Please keep in mind that people have perfectly valid needs for information on sexuality -- especially the teenagers people are trying to protect from getting that information. A Kaiser Foundation study found that the most restrictive settings on filters incorrectly blocked an extremely large percentage of valid health information.
5) WORKSTATION-SPECIFIC OPTIONS for levels of filtering: so that filters in the children's room can be set at the more restrictive default, and filters on machines adults use at the least restrictive level.
6) ALLOW US TO ADD TEXT to the screen that announces a site has been blocked, so that if we wish to, we can tell people they can ask librarians to unblock the site.
I think what I'd like to do next week for ExLibris, if it's OK with you, is post our e-mail exchanges and invite my audience to join the conversation, either with you directly or through me. What do you think?
That would be great! If I get my act together I might be able to get comments installed on my blog tonight and/or set up a forum which would allow easy posting and viewing. I'll be in touch when these are set up.
We tracked down our tech guy and I can now give you the full response to your library filter specs. This is based on the IF 2K product as it presently stands. I have no doubt that we will reconfigure it a fair bit to respond to librarians' concerns and requests.
1) CONTROL: Yes. You can choose the level and you can create "white lists" of sites which either are blocked or might be blocked and these sites would come through. We also have a number of "white lists" available to deal with such issues as health, sex information and homosexuality.
2) AN ADVISORY ROLE: We have that capacity now. We hope that we will be working with many librarians to make sure the overblocking issues are dealt with as soon as they are discovered.
3) NO AGENDA: We have no agenda. Frankly we have deliberately built IF 2K to avoid any number of agendas. If a particular library has an agenda it can create its own black list. We want no part of it.
4) HUMAN OVERSIGHT: We agree. We tested our filter against the sites in the Kaiser study and found we were within 5%. We have fine tuned the filter and suspect we are close to avoiding 100% of the health sites. But the fact is no filtering technology is perfect and it needs to be capable of correction both at the corporate level and at the local library level. If we are overblocking a library should not have to wait until we fix the problem; rather the library should be able to fix what they see as the problem that instant and let us know so we can improve.
5) WORKSTATION-SPECIFIC OPTIONS for levels of filtering: This can be done on IF 2K but we are not sure that this will actually comply with CIPA. As we understand the legislation, to comply all computers in a library must default to CIPA standard filtering. Then, when an adult wants to use an unrestricted computer the filtering can be taken off. You can do this with IF 2K. We are not at all sure what the status of such things as "adults only" computers in adult areas is under CIPA. (And we are pretty sure no one else does either.)
6) ALLOW US TO ADD TEXT...: We can do this.
One of the biggest issues for libraries will be what, exactly, constitutes compliance with CIPA. Technically we can configure our software to do pretty much whatever a library wants it to do; but legally compliance is much trickier. I am going to be writing about the issue of compliance on my blog but it is very much a moving target. I would be delighted to hear from librarians as to what they - and their legal counsel - consider to be CIPA compliant. I am willing to bet opinions differ, sharply.
Thanks for the detailed answers. One more question: can any filter do anything about content that is not ON the web but delivered THROUGH the web, such as e-mail and instant messaging? As you know, a kid can't open an e-mail account without being deluged with really disgusting stuff, and the most serious threats to children on the net are the predators seeking them out through instant messaging and chat rooms. And if filters can't deal with that, aren't we back to what we started with: adult supervision?
All good questions! The broad answer is that if something is web based - webmail, chatrooms on the web, messaging through the web - it can be blocked.
Instant messaging, newsgroups and non-web email are more difficult. Each uses the internet but are not web based. To block porn spam - or any other spam for that matter - is a critical application at this moment but it is not one which a web based filtering technology can address. With Instant Messaging, in all its flavours, the only thing which we could do is block the URL from which the IM software is downloaded. As these are AOL and MSN this would be the worst sort of overblocking.
As to adult supervision I'll quote IF 2K's president, Bob Turner:
...that is a place we have never left...there are people who think filters will replace that "educational/supervision" role but they are sadly mistaken... the only people who would think this is the case are demented filter dealers or wishful, negligent parents...who would "wish " the internet to be a babysitter in the same way TV has become so...
However filtering has now been legislated and hence a co-op solution is REQUIRED...we have to work with a good technology and regional community input for the listings that reflect the local community and provide a solution that is LESS WORSE... if this co-operative effort can be done the best solution can be provided at about 20 percent of the current "retail" costs...."
Bottom line: there are a variety of internet based technologies which have nothing, or very little, to do with the web but which may be seen as threatening to children. Filtering is an imperfect solution to web based material which is seen as harmful to children but it does not have the capacity to eliminate all of the other technologies the internet employs.
One question which I have not seen addressed is P2P file sharing. Along with MP3s it is quite possible to download full porn movies or short porn clips on P2P networks. Libraries, with their large bandwidth connections, are ideal for this sort of activity so long as the downloader is able to burn a CD in the library.
The drafters of CIPA had a somewhat naive understanding of the entire effect of the digital revolution and of the opportunities it offered to kids to do things they are not supposed to.
On a purely personal note: I check in with my computer savvy 13 year old son on the realities of filter hacks, firewall crashing and the pleasures of P2P file sharing. I suspect that Congress would have been better advised to grant immunity to a dozen computer using teenagers and get them to discuss the real issues which come up on line. Just one example, there are networks of kid file sharers who swap files using P2P protocols which fly well under the radar. Mostly they swap music and movies; but I have no doubt there are plenty of kids with hard drives full of porn who are happy to swap.
Adult supervision is the key to any effective internet appropriate use strategy and always has been. Filters are not going to change that.
Please feel free to continue this conversation, with me and with Jay. We'd both be interested in the thoughts of librarians that are actually on the firing line (as I am not). You can e-mail Jay directly, but I'd appreciate copies to me so I know what you're all saying.
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"Dangling that money in front of (librarians) in return for censoring what their adult patrons can access is obscene... These politicians and justices should be ashamed of themselves for forcing a public institution that serves every member of its community to remove valuable information from their grasp. It's literally removing cornerstones of democracy when Illinois library users can't access Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin's sites because of a censorship filter.
Jenny Levine, as quoted by Mark Glaser in "Justices Put Access to Online Information on the Wrong Hands," Online Journalism Review, June 26, 2003 http://www.ojr.org/ojr/glaser/1056661940.php
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