Friday, February 12, 2010

Has SafeLibraries Gone Too Far?

I really think SafeLibraries went far too far in his post of 12 Feb.  I won't repeat his headline here, because it is nothing less than character assassination.  He names two individuals, proclaims one unfit for a particular government job, and accuses the other of committing a crime.  He writes, "people who defraud the E-Rate program go to jail.  People who conspire to defraud the E-Rate program also go to jail." He then names an individual and writes that she "may be guilty of both, in my opinion." 

SafeLibraries' attack on the reputations of these individuals was touched off because one of his victims became "President Obama's choice for the National Museum & Library Services [IMLS] Board."  The details of their allegedly inappropriate actions are old news, however.  It all goes back to SafeLibraries' post of 19 December, in which he claims that an instance of  patron accessing pornography at the Brooklyn Public Library is evidence of some kind of violation of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

SafeLibraries does not understand what the CIPA requires and does not require. Even if he did, he doesn't know enough about what happened in the particular incident in question to know whether or not the act was violated.  If I were he, I'd want to understand these things before I went around accusing specific individuals of breaking the law.

To be brief, a library could be fully compliant with the CIPA, without committing any kind of fraud or other misdeed, and still have a situation in which a patron manages to access illegal pornography on the web using a library computer.  The most likely ways this could happen are:

  1. The internet filter underblocked.  All filtering software underblocks to some degree, occasionally allowing an image to pass through to the patron that really should have been blocked. Occasional failures of this type are unavoidable and are not violations of the CIPA.
  2. The patron may have downloaded an image that was attached to an e-mail message, was attached to an Instant Message, or was made available by several different means within an online chat room.  While some internet filtering programs try to block inappropriate images in these kinds of communication, no such blocking is required by the CIPA. The library might have a filter that does not try to block such downloads, or the library might have deactivated that particular kind of blocking, if their filter has it.  None of that violates the CIPA in the slightest.
  3. The library patron may simply, and quite legally, have requested that the library deactivate the filter while he was using the computer.  It is important to bear in mind that the CIPA is the Children's Internet Protection Act.  In the US v. ALA decision that allowed the CIPA to be implemented, the Supreme court emphasized the right of adults to have the filter disabled on demand.  This was echoed in an order by the Federal Communications Commission, which administers compliance with the act.  See my post of Jan. 10th for details on this.

    This doesn't mean that nobody ever commits any kind of fraud with regard to the CIPA.  SafeLibraries is eagerly searching for such an event, and although he hasn't found what he thinks he found in this particular instance, he might find a valid case, someday.  Assuming that a library has received E-Rate or related funds from the federal government and has certified that it is in full compliance with the CIPA, I can only think of three situations that would amount to fraud and would be responsible for allowing a patron to access illegal online pornography.  There might be more, but all I could come up with are:

    1. The library could have lied outright, claiming it has internet filters installed when it actually has none.  
    2. The library might have some computers that are filtered and some without filters.  Whether or not this violates the CIPA is a bit fuzzy, as I've seen some legal opinions asserting that a library could have unfiltered computers, as long as those computers were reserved for use only by adults.  These legal opinions don't have broad support, however, and my own suspicion is that this pushes the envelope too far.  If I were running a CIPA-compliant library, I'd make sure all the computers have filtering software installed and activated (although I'd also allow adult patrons to disable those filters as they see fit).
    3. A library might have a filtering program that is so bad at blocking illegal pornography that its more like having no filter at all.  This is entirely hypothetical, though.  I am aware of no such software.  Also, the CIPA states no minimum effectiveness level for filtering software, nor even states how such effectiveness would (or could) be measured.  This item, then, is far too vague to be of practical importance.

    SafeLibraries is entitled to his opinions, however uninformed they may be.  He has a lot of homework to do if he wants to be taken seriously.


    1. SafeLibraries went too far a long time ago. He's often tried to connect Internet porn on library computers with children getting molested in libraries. Am I the only one disturbed by the fact he used to be a lawyer?

      (I'll get the review to you later today, sorry for being such a slowpoke. Internet was out for two days.)

    2. No rush on the review. I don't think SafeLibraries was ever a lawyer. I don't think he actually claims that (if you know of a place where he does claim that, please leave a link to it). Certainly, his non-comprehension of the law indicates no training in that area.

    3. Thank you. He claims it here:

      Retired, but still. Oi.

    4. Good catch. But I don't think that the exchange listed there has anything to do with the single individual, Dan Kleinman, who is now The current SafeLibraries used to have a partner, who has passed away, and my guess is that partner would have been the retired or otherwise inactive attorney mentioned in those exchanges.

      Legal opinions do vary, but the current sole proprietor of SafeLibraries goes far beyond the variation one would expect for someone with legal training. He demonstrate an acute lack of comprehension of how the US legal system is structured, or how to read and apply court decisions.

      I think some of this is made clear on his blog, but more in comments than in the posts, which would be difficult to search.

    5. Really? Whoops. I was completely sure that SafeLibraries was just one indidvidual. Neither the site nor the blog seemed to indicate it was more than him.

      At least that explains his lack of legal knowledge. Thanks!

    6. I specifically asked Dan where he went to Law School. He responded in an email (which I no longer have, so this is moot as far as proof is concerned,) the he would prefer to keep the place of his degree private for security reasons. I am not using quotes because I no longer have the email. I remember it clearly however, because I used to work at a law school and generally, people are proud to name the school they attended.

    7. Inquiring minds want to know! Maybe somebody will surprise me on this point. But I doubt it.