Monday, January 4, 2010

Unblocking on Demand?

In today's post, SafeLibraries continues to harp on an imaginary illegality being committed by the Brooklyn Public Library.  According to him, the library is violating the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) by allowing adult patrons to disable Internet Filters on the library computers they are using.

First, let us be clear that both the CIPA and the US v. ALA court decision upholding it require that filters can be disabled for adult patrons (see, for example, Julie Hilden's review of the decision on FindLaw).  The fine point raised by SafeLibraries is whether the law requires that library staff do the disabling or an adult patron can disable the filter without staff intervention.

It is fair to point out that in this post SafeLibraries demonstrates a significant change from his previous positions.  He seems to have a learned something about what the law really says: for the first time he has admitted, clearly and unequivocally, that the CIPA and US v. ALA do require that filters can be disabled for adult patrons. This is real progress.

The fine point raised by SafeLibraries is legally interesting, but is in any practical sense a triviality.  The law requires that library staff disable Internet Filters for an adult user wanting to use the internet for "lawful" purposes.  Since library staff are not lawyers or judges, they are not in any position to render a legal opinion as to whether a particular patron's intended use of the internet is "lawful" or not.  The result is that library staff have little choice but to disable the filter anytime an adult patron requests it.  As Hilden writes: 
The stakes of the American Library Ass'n case were significantly lowered when the government promised, in the course of litigation, that the libraries could, and would, remove the filters if users asked them to do so. It also promised that users would not have to explain why they were making the request.
SafeLibraries' fine point, then, is a difference that makes no difference.  Regardless of whether library staff disable the filter or an adult patron can disable the filter without staff intervention, the endpoint is that the filter is disabled anytime an adult patron demands it.  Insisting that library staff have to do the disabling makes the process pointlessly bureaucratic, since the staff are not making any evaluations or decisions about the patron's request.

In his post SafeLibraries claims to have "confirmed with the federal agency responsible for awarding E-rate grants under the CIPA program that CIPA-compliant filters are not CIPA compliant if they are disabled by the patrons themselves."  I doubt this, and challenge SafeLibraries to explain adequately what form this conformation took.

In his post SafeLibraries also requested a meeting with the director of the Brooklyn Public Library.  I'm not sure that the director is willing to waste her time that way, but in a way I hope that meeting takes place. I hope that the director has an attorney present to explain things, since I think this is one way SafeLibraries' understanding of the CIPA will continue to progress.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for explaining this...