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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

Filtering Software and Access to the Internet

LIS 666 By Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

Introduction

According to Libraries: An American Value affirm the following: we defend the constitutional rights of all individuals, including children and teenagers, to use the librarys resources and services and we celebrate and preserve our democratic society by making available the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions and ideas, so that all individuals have the opportunity to become lifelong learners- informed, literate, educated and culturally enriched. (American Library Association, 1999)

The Childrens Internet Protection Act (CIPA), enacted in 2000 precluded that public and school libraries that received E-rate funding for internet access and materials essential to internet access (computers, internet provider, etc.) must enact filtering software to block or filter childrens access to obscenity, pornography and materials that are harmful to minors. These filters must be placed on all computers including those only accessed by adults in the school and public library setting. Filtering may only be removed temporarily for legitimate research. In addition to the filtering system, libraries and schools have to adopt and implement internet policies addressing all forms of access by minors including chat rooms, email, and hacking. Schools have an additional requirement to enact policies for monitoring online activities of minors. CIPA defines pornography as any picture, writing or other material found to be sexually explicit. Obscenity is defined differently in many states but the general consensus uses the Miller Test, whereby the average person applying contemporary standards would find the work, taken as a whole to be offensive and of no value as to art, literature or science. The definition harmful to minors is any content depicting nudity, sexual activity or simulation of the sex act. (By the way, this is protected First Amendment speech under the First Amendment). Filters separate appropriate versus inappropriate content via compiling category lists such as: adult/sexually explicit, arts, alcohol, business, hate, dating, education, entertainment, hate speech, health, illegal, news, religion and violence (Children's Internet Protection Act Study of Technology Protection Measures, 2003). There are several different types of filtering software distinguished by different features such as: systems that limit online access to a relatively small number of company-approved sites or allow the user to surf the entire Internet, only blocking content that is inappropriate if the user arrives at a suspect site. Most filtering software count on filtering based on keywords, images, text captions, site descriptors, site addresses or Internet host (Jaeger, November 2004,55,13).
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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

This paper will address some of the issues and problems with filtering software as well as interviewing librarians to determine what filtering software is being used, what problems occur with the filtering software and whether there is an option to disable filter in case of bona fide research or when an adult comes into a public library (see appendix A for questionnaire). Filtering Software: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Filtering software comes in a variety of forms and functions. Paul T. Yaeger and Zheng Yan define the different software available as such (Jaeger P. T., March 2009):
a. server sided filtering software where the company chooses the sites to be filtered (and may not reveal what is or is not being filtered as it is a trade secret b. client sided filtering where certain sites are blocked and need a user password c. text based content analysis filtering (removing illicit material through real time analysis) d. monitoring and time limiting the childs access to the internet e. age verification systems where the adult needs a password

With most filtering software, the company chooses the sites that are filtered and may or may not disclose to the user those sites that are being blocked (and why). The service provider may claim that by giving the user the information about how and why sites are blocked may reveal company secrets that may weaken the company if the information was made known. Also, companies may have political or personal agendas and may block pertaining to politically ambiguous sites such as gay and lesbian sites and atheism sites but allow anti-gay sites and religious sites to not be blocked (Jaeger P. T., November 2004,55,13). This takes the collection process for the library out of the hands of the librarian. Another issue with filtering software is that it does not take into account the age or the maturity level of the child. What may be deemed inappropriate to minors below age 10 may not be deemed inappropriate for a minor between 15 and 17 years old. The filtering software does not allow for searching for information related to sexual education, gender identity issues and many health related issues including sexually transmitted diseases. What is a child to do if they have questions concerning these issues and cannot go to a parent or teacher about this? The library has always been the bastion of information for the teenager who needs to learn about such issues. Now the child gets to learn about issues via peers? For many, the school and public library is the only access available to the Internet. This creates a divide between those children who only have access to filtered Internet and those children that have unfiltered Internet access at home. A parent is not mandated to provide filtered access to the Internet at home and the child at home has the ability to
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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

access sites that can be advantageous when doing research, writing a paper or socializing with peers. This then gives more access to children from higher income families and promotes limits to low income families. This does not promote the adage of a free and public education for all. Filters and filtering software can prohibit minors from accessing information that may be protected speech under the First Amendment. One school system reported that The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were blocked. Other sites blocked were religious sites, the Bible and the Book of Mormon (Jaeger P. T., March 2009). The limitation that the filtering software provides is a direct violation of First Amendment rights. According to Kelsey, First Amendment rights ensure Unites States citizens have freedom of speech and of the press, among other freedoms relating to expressions of beliefs and ideas. The right to receive information has been interpreted as a corollary to the First Amendment, implying the right to read and think for oneself. This is an important right for K-12 students. To develop into informed citizens in a free society, they must be allowed to explore ideas in order to partake in free speech (N/D 2007) Other issues that will be addressed in the findings are the following:
a. How do you turn filters off (a lot of librarians dont know or have the ability to turn off filters)? b. When do you turn the filters off? c. What is legitimate research? d. Why are filters on all computers even those only accessed by adults? e. How do you identify what is considered harmful to minors?

Methodology The authors developed a questionnaire (see Appendix A) and presented the questionnaire to 10 librarians. Due to time restraints, some of these questionnaires were sent via e-mail and some librarians were interviewed face to face. The authors attempted to obtain a variety of librarians from each of the categories that would use filtering software due to funding. Findings During a compilation of the data received from librarians answers to the questionnaire, (See Appendix B) it became evident that the librarians or media specialists, in general, have little or no control over the filters or the disabling of them. This is controlled either by the county IT department, the school system technology department or the IT
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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

department in the public library. Only one public librarian could identify the company providing the filtering software and she had to ask a fellow librarian. When the librarian questioned an IT staff member, the staff member was unable to identify the company. The filters were able to be customized by the librarian in only one instance in a public library. This library had a system where parents could select the level of filtering the child experienced. In all other instances, if filters could be customized, this process was handled only through the IT departments. When questioned about the advantages of the filters, most librarians viewed the blocking of inappropriate sites as the most positive aspect. Librarians also cited the necessity of the filters in order to receive funding for providing the Internet or computers. There were several disadvantages of the filters with the most prevalent being the blocking of sites that would be viewed as appropriate for research. In addition, new websites are created daily. If the filtering software doesnt automatically check, inappropriate sites could appear when the user selects a choice given by a search engine. The library which had the levels of filters cited that parents did not always set the level and the child. This led to the uploading of sites that the parent viewed as inappropriate. In the public school setting, the filters are identical on both the public and staff computers, which often hinders research done by an adult staff member when needing to request sites to be unblocked for class research. One high school media specialist has become aware of the fact that students are discovering ways to bypass the filters and requires the specialist to constantly monitor what students are accessing. Only one librarian reported no disadvantages to the filters. One librarian is employed in a library where there are no childrens computers with internet access. Although the public computers are filtered, this librarian had received a grant for the purchase of teaching computers which are filtered with software controlled by the librarian. In some cases where sites are blocked, the librarian has offered a teaching computer for the patrons use. Disabling the filters is a major undertaking in most instances. Some public libraries have internal IT departments which decide if a site is to be unblocked and can usually do so within a reasonable length of time. If other cases, the county IT or the school system technology departments have control over the disabling and require a form to be sent. This process could take as long as three days. School media specialists can request that sites be unblocked for classroom research. This method is unpredictable at best because the site may be unblocked for one day and blocked the next even though the request sent to IT had specified dates for the unblocking.

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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet Conclusion

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

Since the advent of CIPA, the protection of children from inappropriate materials that they may encounter on the Internet has fallen on the librarians in the public and school libraries and filtering software. This puts a great burden on librarians as the sole caretakers of the childs safety on the Internet. This also greatly limits the input that the parent and the child have on what they may or may not view on the internet. As far as CIPA is concerned, the job of protecting children from obscenity and material harmful to minors has been taken out of the hands of the parents and put into legislation that it is the job of the librarian and filtering. Interviews with librarians across the board showed their displeasure with the filters because of the sites that were inappropriately blocked. The authors also discovered that librarians do not have the ability to override the filters when asked to do so by an adult patron either for the patron or for the child with the patron. This ability has been removed by the governing body, either a county or city government or school board, and placed in the hands of IT. This presents many problems because of the inability to contact IT and either have the site unblocked in a timely manner or to have permission denied. This greatly compromises the training and education that librarians receive to address the needs of the patron. It is also contrary to the Supreme Courts opinion:
The Supreme Court underscored the ease with which patrons may have the filtering software disabled. (Children's Internet Protection Act Study of Technology Protection
Measures, 2003)

In conclusion, the authors feel that the present system for allowing internet access for children violates their first amendment rights because of their not being allowed access to appropriate sites that are protected speech. This is also true for adults but to a lesser degree as most adult computers in public libraries have a filter that allows more access. If a childs access to information is filtered from the time he enters kindergarten to when he graduates from high school, when does the child learn critical thinking skills? Are we not teaching the child that they do not have the integrity and intelligence to determine for him how to navigate the Internet and how to determine what material is appropriate and reliable and what is not? Are we not as professionals, responsible for teaching children critical thinking skills? Would it not be better for the curriculum to include safety skills on the internet and what to do and not to do? Should we not teach the child the appropriate way to research?

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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet Bibliography

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

Adams, H. R. (2008). Filters and Access to Information, Part I, II, III. School Library and Media Activities Monthly . American Library Association. (1999, February 3). Libraries: an American Value. Retrieved February 10, 2010, from ALA: http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/pif/statementspols/americanvalue/librariesamerican.cfm Children's Internet Protection Act Study of Technology Protection Measures. (2003, August). www.ntia.doc.gov. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from National Telecommunicaitons and Information Administration: http://ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/ntiageneral/cipa2003/cipareport Dobija, J. (S 2007). The First Amendment Needs New Clothes. American Librarian, 38 no 8 , 50-53. FCC Consumer Facts, Childrens Internet Protection . (n.d.). Consumer Facts. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from FCC: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/cipa.html Jaeger, P. T. (March 2009). One Law with Two Outcomes: Comparing the Implementation of CIP in Public Libraries and Schools. Information Technoloby and Libraries , 6-14. Jaeger, P. T. (November 2004,55,13). The Effects of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in the Public Libraries and It's Implications for Research: Statistical, Policy and Legal Analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology , 1131-1139. Kelsey, M. (N/D 2007). Are We Lucky for the First Amendment? A Brief History of Student's Right to Read. Knowledge Quest, 36, no2 , 26-29. Lavell, A. L. (N/D 2004). In the Name of In(ternet)decency Laws Attempting to Regulate Content Deemed Harmful to Children. Public Librarians , 353-359. Library Bill of Rights. (1996, January 23). Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from ALA: Http://www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/statementsif/librarybillofrights.cfm Minors Rights to Recieve Informaiton Under the First Amendment. (2004, February 2). Minors' Rights to Receive Information Under the First Amendment. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from ALA: http:///www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/issuresrelatedlinks/minorsrights.cfm Tilton, M. W. (Winter 2001). Transferring Risk through Appropriate Liablility Insurance. Library Administration and Management , 30-37. Velasques, M. A. (n.d.). Thinking Ethically: A Framework for Moral Decision Making. Retrieved February 2010, from Marllula Center for Applied Ethics: http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publicatins/iie/v7n1/thinking.html

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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

Appendix A
Questions for Librarians about Filtering Software and How to use them 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. What type of library: School public, School private, Public? Who is responsible for the filtering system in your library? What company provides your filters? Can you customize the filtering system for your patrons? What are the advantages to filters? What are the disadvantages? How easy is the procedure to disable the filters? Under what circumstances will you disable the filters? Does the age of the child determine if you will disable the filters and for what purpose? 10. What is the procedure for disabling filters if the child/teen is researching a project and the filters will not allow the child to access the needed information?

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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell

Appendix B
Results of Librarians Questionnaires

Type

Responsibility

Filter Company unknown

Customize

Advantages

Disadvantages Disabling Difficulty Parents don't always set levels Might block sites that are appropriate Easy

Disabling Age of Circumstances child any factor? Parental Permission Request unblocking. IT determines if site is appropriate IT disables on case by case basis

Disabling Procedure?

Public

County - IT Dept. County - IT Dept.

Yes - 3 levels to a certain extent

Parents decide on filter level Allows libraries to block inappropriate sites and materials Block inappropriate sites

No, only Not parental specified permission No Request is sent to IT

Public

unknown

Can't disable, has to be done by county IT Can't disable. Must be done by IT

Public

Library IT

unknown

No

Have not experienced any disadvantages

No

Form is submitted to IT and they decide if site is appropriate

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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet


Public Library IT Branch Savantech Yes, Blocks requires IT explicit permission material

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell


Blocks appropriate sites. May miss a new site that is inappropriate Fairly easy After patron but time request and IT consuming. verification no Request sent to IT and they verify that site is appropriate and unblock. IT has to reblock once patron is no longer on computer

Public

IT Department

unknown

no

None except for being able to get funds to help with cost of internet.

Sometimes block legitimate research sites

Time consuming

If patron is determined to be engaging in genuine research

no

Log into library intranet, request that site be unblocked and then wait for IT to respond. IT is supposed to respond within 1 hour.

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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet


Public Mostly county IT but there are teaching computers bought with grant that librarian can unblock the filters iprism when it blocks it tells you why No computers in children's room Funds received

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell


Little or no control over the public computers. Have to go through IT to unblock sites which may take 60 min. to accomplish All requests go through library director and then to IT. Librarian can use teaching computers if patron is doing genuine research Probably very difficult. Have not tried to do so. Can't disable. Has to go through chain of command No Have to send request to IT through director.

Public School

School District

unknown

No

Enables school to keep internet access to educational sites

Blocks sites that may be helpful to students. Staff and students have same filter.

None - media specialist had not been given info on how to disable.

No

Have to send request to district, Even then the site usually remains blocked.

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Filtering Software and Access to the Internet


Public School School District unknown Media speciality can request that sites for projects or research can be requested to be unblocked Can request that sites be unblocked for class research Can request that sites be unblocked for class research Somewhat does parents' job. Don't have to monitor as much

Dawn Bish and Cyndi Atwell


Filter is unpredictable. Also, high school students have figured out how to go around them. Can't disable. Has to be done by the school system Teachers can request that sites be unblocked for research or projects. Even if unblocked today, there is no guarantee that it will be unblocked the next day. Can request sites be unblocked for research no Request sent to school system IT

Public High School

School District

unknown

Mostly keeps children from accessing inappropriate sites

Sometime blocks sites that are appropriate

Have to request school technology dept. to unblock Have to request school IT to unblock

No

Request school technology department

Public School

School District

unknown

Blocks inappropriate sites

Sometimes block legitimate research sites

Can't disable. Has to go through school IT

No

Request school IT

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