Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tightening Delaware’s CIPA?

I wasn’t going to comment on Delaware’s recent attempt to “tighten” its own CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), because I thought this was an unimportant story of minor changes to an already minor law. But since Safelibraries and some other sources are commenting on it, and are getting some key details wrong, I thought I might attempt a clarification.

The School Library Journal recently reported that the Governor of the state of Delaware has signed into law HB 340, which the journal describes as a “revision of CIPA” that “extends the law’s reach to wireless access in the public library.” The Journal quotes the governor as saying that the new law will “make it clear for the first time that even if it's on a personal laptop, public library network policies on acceptable use still apply.”

The Governor’s accurate summary of the law has been misinterpreted by some, who think it means that “WiFi will be filtered as well as the usual means of Internet access.” This is not the case. 

I can only guess about the source of the confusion, but I think it comes from a failure to read carefully. There is, of course, a big difference between a “use policy,” a set of rules that tells people what they can and cannot do, and an “internet filter,” a set of software and hardware that actively prevents computer users from accessing web pages that are estimated to contain pornographic images. What Delaware HB 340 says is that the “use of any computer or mobile device at a library shall be governed by the library's acceptable use policy.”  This makes patron-owned computers subject to the library’s internet use policy; it does not make patron-owned computers subject to the library’s internet filter, if a given library even has one.

Some might also be confusing the requirements of two different CIPA laws, the federal and the state. HB 340 is a modification to Delaware state’s CIPA, which never required internet filters, only a usage policy.  It is the federal CIPA, an entirely separate matter, which requires libraries that get certain federal funds to implement filters. HB 340 changes only the state’s CIPA; it does nothing at all to the federal CIPA (nor could it).

So what problem does wimpy HB 340 address? The existing Delaware CIPA required libraries to have use policies for computers the library owned. The law didn’t empower library staff to take enforcement action against patrons who violated that internet use policy when the patrons were using their own computers at the library. HB 340 changes that, allowing library staff to deny library privileges to any patron who violates the internet use policy while at the library, regardless of who owns the computer the patron used.

Both the Delaware State CIPA (Title 29, Chapter 66C) and HB 340 are short and clear.  I recommend reading them.  As of 23 June, Title 29 has not yet been updated to reflect the changes established in HB 340, which are scheduled to go into effect in about 90 days.  

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