CIPA Turns Ten Years and Creates Barriers

June 23, 2014 (San Diego) The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) (47 U.S.C. 254) was passed ten years ago, The goal of the Act, and upheld by the United States Supreme Court, was to keep children safe by preventing them from looking at pornography, or other material deemed “harmful to minors.”

On June 5th. the American Library Association (ALA)  released a report titled: Fencing Out Knowledge  Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years LaterThe report is critical of the Act and the effect it has had. At the core, it finds that 

The public has grown accustomed to the use of filters. In the face of this increased public acceptance, the efficacy of filtering as a solution to protecting children online is no longer being considered, and relevant expert findings from congressionally mandated studies are being ignored. “

We as a society have gotten used to being told what we can, and what we cannot ask, that this has become a new normal. This prevents us from asking critical questions, such as how is this affecting the use of libraries in both the school setting and outside the school setting? These are important questions both at a larger policy level, as well as the individual user.

One of the key findings is that these filters

“…create a false sense of security for library patrons, given that… they over- block legitimate content and under-block targeted content at equal rates. Furthermore, patrons may not understand how their information access is being curtailed, or may hesitate to access information if they perceive that their filtered internet access also may be monitored.

This perception of both false security and monitoring creates real fear among users who might revert to self censorship. The filters also prevent people from searching valid things like medical sites. This filtering has also anecdotally led to information needed for a nursing exam being blocked, as well as school districts blocking material necessary for AP classes, as it happened in a Minnesota school district, according to the report.

They also point out that young people, more adept at using the technology, can and do get around filters more often. This becomes an ethical challenge and a wrong lesson we are teaching as a society.

This is not good policy since it also creates two groups of digital citizens, those with access to smart phone and computer technology elsewhere and filtered internet access at libraries and schools. .

The study notes that

Additionally, 60 percent of libraries are the only providers of free public access to computers and the internet in their communities, and this proportion rises to more than 70 percent among rural libraries.” Given that San Diego County libraries are CIPA compliant and so is the County Department of Education, which pretty much means the school districts are, we must pay attention to CIPA and the ALA’s critique.

Regarding schools one key finding is that:

Many schools fail to adequately address the challenge of providing students with the necessary digital literacy skills and competencies. By blocking social media, schools give teachers an instructional exemption from preparing students81 to use these tools for educational or professional pursuits. As a result, students are at a disadvantage when employers and colleges examine their online profiles, which is becoming routine.

While systems, such as San Diego County Office of Education, and San Diego Unified justify blocking things like Facebook as part of their education goals, telling us Facebook is a waste of time, increasingly Facebook is important to learn to navigate social media. I am using Facebook since the District mentions them by name.  What is more, Universities use social media postings as part of their selection criteria for future student bodies. We are well meaning, but according to the ALA we are handicapping those children.  The San Diego County Library System, as well as other systems in the county are also CIPA compliant.

Moreover, one of the points made by the ALA is that students need to learn how to navigate the social media space, whether that is twitter, SnapChat or Lynkedin, in a responsible and ethical  manner.

This has set a two tier system:

The effect of CIPA is greatest on those who rely on public libraries for both internet access and training, including children and adults who lack broadband connections at home. In schools, CIPA creates two classes of students: an advantaged class with unfiltered internet access at home and a disadvantaged class with only filtered access at school, including lower-income students, those in urban and rural areas, and especially those who rely on public library and school internet access. Moreover, while some students benefit from responsible use policies with guided instruction and experimentation with digital content and platforms, others are denied those educational opportunities.

This is chiefly the case among rural populations, and poor urban populations. The critique from the ALA comes with policy suggestions They range from tracking the effects, and a study repository on this matter, all the way to increasing the role of Librarians in setting policy.

Regardless, if you are a public library user, realize that places like WordPress, or Facebook might be blocked. But chiefly, if you need to access material on the web for valid reasons, and it is blocked, as an adult you can ask for the filter to be removed. It is your constitutional right and some might argue your duty.



Categories: civil rights

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