Children's Internet Protection Act
Guest: Judith Krug
Director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association
Monday, June 3, 2002, Noon EDT
Join us for a discussion about Friday's federal court decision overturning the "Children's Internet Protection Act," a law that required public libraries and schools to block access to adult Web sites and other material deemed "harmful" to children.
The two-year-old law -- which was struck down by a three-judge panel, required public libraries and schools to use Internet filtering software on their computers in order to qualify for millions of dollars in federal funding. Read the full story Libraries Breathe Easy After Court Ruling On Internet Filters (Post, June 3).
Joining us today will be Judith Krug, director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, one of several groups that challenged the law. The discussion will be moderated by washingtonpost.com tech policy reporter Brian Krebs.
The transcript follows below.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Brian Krebs: Welcome, Judith, and thank you for joining us. For everyone
who is joining us online, thank you for your questions, and
please keep them coming.
Judith, you've been director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom since its founding in 1967. Since then, you've seen the
Philadelphia court and the Supreme Court strike down several attempts by Congress to regulate access to objectionable material on the Internet. From your view, what - if anything - has changed within this issue over the years? What are the common threads?
Judith Krug: Glad to be here, Brian. Let me take your second question first regarding the common threads in these cases.
Certainly one common thread is the First Amendment. But the First Amendment in and of itself only gives us the right to express our point of view and listen to others as we choose. The uniqueness of the First Amendment is that it allows us to be self-governors, and that, in my opinion, is its real reason for being. That's why it's so important in this country and often denigrated and down played in other countries. It is this thread that runs through all of these cases.
What has changed is that both the Internet and the people using the Internet are more sophisticated. The people who use the Internet, also encompasses those, who in my opinion, misuse the Internet.
Nevertheless, it continues to be the most important communications medium in the 21st century and will, in my opinion, increase in importance as the century progresses. It, therefore, becomes incumbent on those individuals who live in the world of communication to do all they can to protect this medium from censorship.
Brian Krebs: Are you at all concerned that - as a consequence of this ruling - some parents may prevent their children from visiting libraries unchaperoned out of fear that they will be exposed to inappropriate images and content online?
Judith Krug: Libraries are very safe, but they are open to everyone. Parents should accompany young children to the library and establish rules and expectations for older children. It's important to teach children how to make good decisions about what they read and view, no matter where they are.
I hope parents will continue to go to the library with their children and work with their librarians to find the best resources for their children.
We know that filters are not the only or the best way to protect children. This ruling has not changed that basic position. This is a complex issue that demands a complex solution, but we know that education is a primary part of the solution.
San Francisco, Calif.: What is your position on Internet filtering in schools? Do you think the recent decision for libraries may spark new challenges to CIPA from K-12 schools?
Judith Krug: I have always found it a little strange that the majority of schools are utilizing filters. It seems to me that this is the environment where filters would not be used because the students are so carefully monitored, the activities in which they engage all go toward the same goals of education, and this is the very place where young people should be learning about information and its uses, in other words, where they should be learning information literacy.
A recent National Research Center report, commissioned by Congress, clearly stated that information and media literacy are the most important things we can teach our children in order to truly protect them. Instead of placing barriers around the swimming pool, we must teach children to swim. We must teach children to find and use accurate information.
Having said that, I do think this CIPA decision may spark a school challenge to the law.
Brian Krebs: We're about halfway through our discussion, and we've received some great questions. Keep them coming! For a wealth of information on the CIPA case, visit ALA's CIPA Site
Brian Krebs: Readers can also find more information about the recent Philadelphia court decision on CIPA here
Front Royal, Va.: Libraries don't stock Playboy and other adult magazines on their shelves. Why should people have the same access to such material in libraries just because it's on the Internet?
Brian Krebs: We've gotten several questions on this.
Judith Krug: Just as people bring their own materials for reading and studying, the Internet empowers users to select for themselves the materials they wish to view. Librarians do not monitor what people bring into the library nor do we monitor what they choose to read on the Internet through the library's connection.
However, we find that the vast majority of users use the Internet the same way they use the rest of the library -- to work on homework assignments, read about sports, music and other interests, and communicate with their friends.
Newark, Del.: Isn't it the case that librarians have actually been on the "front line" more than any other group in the fight to defend the freedom of expression and the right for all Americans to have access to information? Do you see then that the stereotype of the librarian is changing?
Judith Krug: Yes, indeed, librarians have been and will be on the front lines more than any other group in the fight to defend the freedom of expression and the right for all librarians and their users to have access to information. The reason is that our role is to bring people together with the information they need and want when they need it and when they want it. If this changes the stereotype of librarians, I'm ecstatic. If not, this will not change what I do or the passion with which I do it!
After all, libraries are the cornerstone of democracy.
Brian Krebs: Many participants today have asked some variation of this question: How big a problem is it with patrons - especially children - accessing pornography on library computers?
Judith Krug: I'm glad you asked. This has often felt to me like a legislative solution looking for a problem.
Libraries report few complaints about Internet content from their users. A survey of about 1,000 public libraries (Library Research Center of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, July 2000) found that while 50 percent of libraries had received informal complaints about Internet access, only about 7 percent of these were content-related (although not necessarily focused on pornography). Most were about faulty equipment or a slow response time.
Arlington, Va.: The three-judge panel in ALA v. US suggested that not only was this particular law unconstitutional, but that free library Internet access was perhaps a "traditional public forum" under First Amendment law. This would mean that free library Internet access was like a public sidewalk or urban park, were the government can impose almost no control over free speech (unlike, say, inside a government office building, or even a private movie theater). The court likened free library Internet access to citizen access to mom-and-pop print shop pamphlets during the American Revolution.
Do you think this is a good analogy? Is free library Internet access a "special" place for free exchange of ideas that deserves special protection?
Judith Krug: The Supreme Court's 1997 opinion striking down the Communications Decency Act extended the full protection of the First Amendment to the Internet, finding its content "as diverse as human thought," "a vast democratic forum," and a unique marketplace for ideas and opinion.
The District Court in Pennsylvania extended this determination to the public library's provision of free Internet access, even though the library itself is a limited public forum. In the court's view, once the library decides to provide a portal to the Internet, it is providing access to the entire forum, or marketplace of ideas, contained on the Internet, which itself enjoys the protection of such traditional fora as sidewalks and parks. Any decision to limit access to particular material on the Internet based on its content must then be subject to the highest Constitutional scrutiny.
Arlington, Va: From the ALA's standpoint, what's the most important issue with this law? Is it funding? First Amendment concerns? Local sovereignty?
Judith Krug: The most important issue with this law is that filters don't work -- as every technical witness, whether the ALA's or the government's, agreed. The government mandated a "silver bullet solution" that not only doesn't work, but in the process takes a major local institution away from the control of the local community and runs roughshod over our First Amendment rights.
To cap it off, Congress tied this imperfect solution to funding -- forcing libraries into the position of choosing economic or content censorship.
Brian Krebs: If Internet content filters block constitutionally protected
speech, can't libraries simply unblock access to such
Judith Krug: The law did make the provision to unblock sites for "bona fide research purposes." This places an incredible amount of discretion in the hands of a librarian. But that becomes almost a minor problem when it can be anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days to unblock a site (according to witness testimony). More importantly, evidence at trial showed that most people want to be anonymous in unblocking information, which cannot be accomplished in most libraries, so they would not ask and therefore not get the information they needed. For instance, most people would not feel comfortable asking for information on testicular cancer, pregnancy or gay sexuality.
Testimony at trial showed that as much as 30 percent of legal, useful and valuable information may be blocked by various filters.
College Park, Md.: I'm wondering what the rationale is behind these movements to "filter" what is available through the medium of the Internet in public libraries. Have there been similar movements to "filter" what is available in public libraries in the medium of print? Are there those who think the federal government should withhold money from libraries that stock books with information similar to the information they want "filtered" out of Web sites accessed through public library computers?
Judith Krug: The rationale behind any movement to "filter" is to remove from the public domain information and ideas that the would-be censors find offensive or harmful or just don't like. There are and continue to be similar movements to "filter" - or remove - print materials from libraries that contain ideas and information that the people who would remove them do not like. The Harry Potter series has been the most challenged and censored materials for three years running -- mostly in school libraries.
And there have been suggestions that funding be withheld from those libraries that don't "filter out" the books and magazines that the people asking for removal find offensive.
Reston, Va.: Supporters of the law have criticized the Philadelphia court for focusing on the inability of content filters to catch 100 percent of objectionable content. They claim that such standards are unrealistic, noting that the Food & Drug Administration would never be able to approve a new drug if it had to be 100 percent effective. Is this a fair criticism?
Judith Krug: What the Court said in its decision is that the Web is so vast and changes so quickly that there is absolutely no hope that any filter is ever going to be able to do the job that it is supposed to be doing. In the process, these mechanical devices are eliminating, as noted earlier, vast amounts of legal, valuable and useful information.
We're concerned filters give parents a false sense of security that their children are protected when they aren't.
As a nation of self-governors, we need ideas and information. It is this rationale that led the Court to determine that we must have the highest standards in regard to the availability and accessibility of information.
Brian Krebs: That about wraps up our discussion for today. A big thanks out to all of our readers and participants in today's discussion for the many provocative questions you submitted. And thank you Judith, for your time, insight, and very thoughtful responses!
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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