Thursday, January 28, 2010

About Internet Filters in Volusia County, FL

SafeLibraries was happy, in his post of 22 Jan, to proclaim that Volusia County (FL) officials had tightened up rules about disabling internet filters on computers within the Volusia County Public Library system. It's taken me some time to figure out in more detail what this is about. Having done that, I have to express my doubts about the new restrictions in that county. This will be up to the lawyers to decide (hopefully before it goes to a judge), but I suspect these new restrictions will not stand.

What happened, according to the News Journal Online (14 Jan 2010), is that one adult patron complained about what another adult patron was looking at online. It is not clear that any minors saw the offending material, nor is it clear whether or not the offending material was actually obscene or otherwise illegal. Eventually, the complaint led to the county council, with input from at least some library personal, to restrict the rights of adult patrons to unblock filtered sites or disable the internet filter on request.

According to a presentation made to the County Council, and available from their online agenda of the meeting of 21 Jan, the new policy requires that a patron wishing to unblock a site or disable a filter must file a request in writing. The form requires the patron to identify himself or herself by name and library card number, requires the patron to state a reason for the request, and allows the library up to 72 hours to respond.

One of the things that this presentation makes clear is that the library accepts federal funds to help defray telecommunications and internet access charges, and is therefore subject to the terms of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). I'm no lawyer, but I believe that establishes a legal framework that makes the new policy highly questionable. My (non-expert) concerns are:
  1. The new policy defines an adult as someone 18 or older, but the CIPA states a cutoff age of 17.
  2. The new policy requires an adult to state a reason for disabling the internet filter, but the US v. ALA Supreme Court decision (echoed in FCC Order 03-188), appears to require that an adult be able to disable a filter without stating a reason.
  3. The new policy creates a privacy concern by requiring an adult requesting unblocking or disabling to identify himself or herself by name, in writing, and to state the planned internet access. The CIPA appears not to permit this kind of record keeping.
  4. The allowance of 72 hours for consideration of the request is far too long. The US v. ALA decision assumed that disabling could be done in a timely manner. Excessive delays may place an undue burden the right to access protected speech.
It will be very interesting and educational to watch how this plays out. (More detailed information and additional links are available HERE.)

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