Monday, January 25, 2010

Open Letter to the Volusia County Council

Dear Councilperson:

It appears that the Council is considering changes in policy about unblocking and/or disabling internet filters at the Volusia County Public Library. While my understanding of that proposal is limited to what I’ve read in news reports, and is therefore incomplete, I wish to bring to your attention the possibility that the proposed changes could result in the revocation of federal funds the library currently receives, as well as embroil the county in a costly lawsuit. I urge the council to seek the advice of an attorney before proceeding with the proposal.

If I understand the situation correctly, the Volusia County Public Library receives certain federal funds that make the library subject to the terms of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). The CIPA requires that libraries receiving those funds have filtering software on all computers with internet access. You should be aware, however, that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which administers certification and compliance under the CIPA, requires that adult library patrons be able to disable the internet filter without explaining their intended use. The FCC clarified this in order 03-188, in response to the US Supreme Court decision US v. ALA. The order says, in part:

The Supreme Court found that CIPA does not induce libraries to violate the Constitution because public libraries’ Internet filtering software can be disabled at the request of any adult user and, therefore, does not violate their patrons’ First Amendment rights. In upholding CIPA, the Supreme Court emphasized “the ease with which patrons may have the filtering software disabled,” and that a patron who encounters a blocked site … need only ask a librarian to unblock it (or at least in the case of adults) disable the filter.” The plurality also highlighted the government’s acknowledgment at oral argument that “a patron would not ‘have to explain … why he was asking a site to be unblocked or the filtering to be disabled.’”

I am given to understand that the library can develop a policy about internet use that reduces the discomfort some patrons might feel in reaction to what other patrons are viewing on a library computer. However, inserting library or other county staff into the process of deciding which adults get to view which internet sites is, in addition to being extremely impractical, fraught the legal and financial implications for the county.

Again, please seek the advice of an attorney before proceeding with the proposed policy changes.

Thank You For Your Consideration.

News Coverage:

FCC Summary of the CIPA:

FCC Order 03-188:

US v. ALA Decision:

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