Libraries, the Internet and the Law

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It is possible to attach filtering software that can block access to certain categories of information on the Internet. While at first glance this might seem like an easy solution to the problem of pornography on the Internet, there are two problems with filters on the Internet. One is that filters do not block pornography as effectively as they claim, thus giving the library and the computer user a false sense of security. The other problem with filters is that they can mistakenly block information, topics, and ideas people have a right to read and that is protected by the constitution.

Two recent laws, one federal and one state, have an enormous impact on Utah libraries (particularly public libraries) and the question of whether or not to filter their public computers. The first law that was passed is the federal law, CIPA or the Children’s Internet Protection Act. This was passed in to effect by a divided Supreme Court ruling in 2003. In 2004, the Utah Legislature passed their own state version of CIPA, further restricting the funding public libraries can receive if the library chooses not to filter.

CIPA: In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling by U.S. District Court and rejected ALA’s challenge to CIPA. They stipulated that any library receiving E-rate discounts for technology related issues must put filter, or “blocking technology”, on all computers in the library. These filters must block images that meet the legal definition of pornography.

What you need to know about CIPA:

• Every public and school library receiving e-rate discounts for Internet access, service, or internal connections must have filters on all their computers by July 2004

• Libraries receiving LSTA grant funds for computers or Internet connection must also have filters installed by July 2004

• Libraries that do not receive e-rate or LSTA funds do not have to put filters on their computers

CIPA does not apply to academic libraries

CIPA requires that the filter only block images that meet the legal definition of obscene, child pornography, or “harmful to minors”

• Libraries cannot use e-rate funds to purchase blocking software

• In the Supreme Court ruling, an adult must be able to ask that the filter be turned off without onerous process. If the library fails to do so, they are open to a potential lawsuit.

• If a library decided to install blocking software that is CIPA compliant, certification of compliance for e-rate must be made to the FCC by July, 2004. To receive certain LSTA grant monies, libraries must submit certification of compliance to The Institute of Museum and Library Services, also by July 2004

Many public libraries throughout the country and in Utah decided that the federal funding compliance with CIPA would make them eligible for was not worth the cost of maintaining filters and the inconvenience to users and staff asking for their rights to be restored.

Unfortunately for Utah public libraries, House Bill 341 was passed in March of 2004. This bill requires any public library receiving e-rate funding or any kind of state funding must have filters on all public access Internet terminals.

What you need to know about HB 341:

• If the library wishes to receive state funds, it must have an Internet policy regarding the use of the Internet by minors and an Internet filter on all computers available to the public. This filter must be set up to block images of child pornography, obscenity, and images deemed “harmful to minors”

• You will also need to prepare procedures for policy enforcement, patron complaints related to the filters, and procedures for handling a patron request for the filter to be disabled

• Make sure your procedures and guidelines clearly state the brand of filter being used and the categories being blocked

• The law states that the library may allow a filter to be disabled only for adults, and only for “research and other lawful purposes”

• The penalty for not complying with this law is loss of state development grants, loss of lender support funds, loss of eligibility for LSTA grants

This law and CIPA have forced many libraries in Utah to accept filtering, against their better judgment, and regardless of monies available to purchase filtering software. This continues to be a challenging and complex issue for libraries. One issue that merits watching is wireless Internet access for library patrons in libraries that are CIPA compliant. As demand for Internet connectivity increases, wireless seems like a good solution, especially for libraries with limited space for more computers. But must the library filter these patron laptops as well as other PCs accessible to patrons? Most seem to agree that it is reasonable to assume that CIPA’s phrase “its computers” refers to library-owned PCs, not patron-owned laptops. But keep in mind that this is only an assumption and has not been tested yet.

Acceptable Use Policies: Although between CIPA and House Bill 341 it may feel like not filtering is no longer an option, it is still an option. Whether you employ a filter or not, it is important to have a clear acceptable use statement posted on or next to your library Internet computers or on your library system home page. This statement needs to remind patrons that they are responsible for the destinations they reach when surfing the net, and that there can be legal consequences if they access illegal sites. (See Appendix J for examples of Acceptable Use Policies from other library systems.)

The Utah State Library has an invaluable resource on their homepage under Library Laws and Legislation. Here you will find a great deal of information on HB 341, CIPA, the USA Patriot Act, and information on filter comparisons. The website address is The ALA also has useful information on their website regarding CIPA and libraries.

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