To Filter or not to Filter

Guest Post by Terri Buckner

The Chapel Hill Libraries and town manager, Cal Horton, are at odds about the value of internet filters.

The Children's Internet Protection Act, upheld by the Supreme Court a year ago, requires libraries to install filters or lose federal money.

We don't think filtering works very well," said Robert Schriner, library board chairman. "We don't think it does the job, and it basically interferes with getting access to real sites. It has been shown to filter out sites that are perfectly legitimate."

... Town Manager Cal Horton, on the other hand, will recommend to the town council that some computers with filtering turned on must be made available through the library. "Parents could choose whether they want their children to have filtered or unfiltered Internet sessions."

"We see it as a service," Horton said. "We know that filters are imperfect mechanisms, but we see this as providing a service."- News & Observer, 6/24/04

To filter or not to filter....what do you think?

Issues: 

Total votes: 125

Comments

Do my eyes deceive me? Are facts and rationality prevailing over misinformation and hysterical fury? This is the first thread I've seen in a long while where participants who offer accurate facts (about, for example, the rudimentary structure of U.S. government) and postings that aren't oozing with malice and sarcasm haven't been systematically attacked and silenced by more aggressive participants. Thank you to Mark K, Terri, et al for maintaining both your opinions and your civility! I hope to see more from you on other threads.

WASHINGTON -- Legislation that would exempt from legal liability anyone who uses filtering software to "clean up" purportedly indecent, violent or pornographic content in movies won approval Thursday from a key House subcommittee. The Family Movie Act, which is designed to end the dispute between the studios and the guilds and Utah-based ClearPlay, was approved by the House Copyright Subcommittee and is expected to move swiftly through the full House Judiciary Committee as early as next week. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee and the bill's primary author, said the legislation is necessary because parents need it to protect their children from objectionable content.

First, what ever happened to the supposedly conservative keystone principle of personal responsibility that Republicans like Lamar rattle on about Todd? Why in the heck would you deface some artists work (or the content of a website) and then show it to your kids? Why not just be responsible and have them wait until they're age appropriate.

Second, it's ridiculous to think that a filter would work universally - satisfying all users. Thus, the never-ending trail of complaints the library staff and town will have to deal with - trivial or not.

Third, the web is a cesspool. I've been part of it before it really existed and I can trace its trajectory from its Gutenberg Bible-like beginnings to its current GAP catalog sleaze. But, that's the way of it. Seems like some of us monkeys can't help but corrupt our finer institutions. Kind of like the current crop of supposedly conservative monkeys that have defecated all over the Constitution and the one true innovation our country birthed - true individual liberty couple with individual responsibility.

Todd, when do the true conservatives of the Republican party start speaking out against the Lamar or Hatch nonsense and start focusing on preserving (conserving) what's left of our bedrock principles?

WASHINGTON -- Legislation that would exempt from legal liability anyone who uses filtering software to "clean up" purportedly indecent, violent or pornographic content in movies won approval Thursday from a key House subcommittee. The Family Movie Act, which is designed to end the dispute between the studios and the guilds and Utah-based ClearPlay, was approved by the House Copyright Subcommittee and is expected to move swiftly through the full House Judiciary Committee as early as next week. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee and the bill's primary author, said the legislation is necessary because parents need it to protect their children from objectionable content.

First, what ever happened to the supposedly conservative keystone principle of personal responsibility that Republicans like Lamar rattle on about Todd? Why in the heck would you deface some artists work (or the content of a website) and then show it to your kids? Why not just be responsible and have them wait until they're age appropriate.

Second, it's ridiculous to think that a filter would work universally - satisfying all users. Thus, the never-ending trail of complaints the library staff and town will have to deal with - trivial or not.

Third, the web is a cesspool. I've been part of it before it really existed and I can trace its trajectory from its Gutenberg Bible-like beginnings to its current GAP catalog sleaze. But, that's the way of it. Seems like some of us monkeys can't help but corrupt our finer institutions. Kind of like the current crop of supposedly conservative monkeys that have defecated all over the Constitution and the one true innovation our country birthed - true individual liberty couple with individual responsibility.

Todd, when do the true conservatives of the Republican party start speaking out against the Lamar or Hatch nonsense and start focusing on preserving (conserving) what's left of our bedrock principles?

Todd--there is no federal mandate for libraries to filter. There is a financial incentive, however, if a library should choose to do so. Our library is not breaking any laws or thumbing their noses at a conservative Congress. They are exercising their option to protect freedom of speech from a faulty technological solution to what should be a parental control.

You come across in most of your posts as a conservative. I thought one of the bedrock principles of conservatism was limited government interference in local decision making. In this case, I would say that our local governance body has chosen to take a conservative approach and NOT impose governmental oversight. As for the loss of the $5,000--that's a one time payment for a technical solution and it wouldn't cover software updates or the staffing required to support filtering.

Mark

I did not go to Law School like you did, but I still trust our Senate and Congress to intepret the constitution more than I trust YOU!

I think you make a huge stretch to put your own interpretations in front of the U.S. Congress and Senate. I am sure you justify it somehow as the big protector of civil liberties...URGH!

Todd,

Here's how it works:

U.S. Congress = U.S. Senate + U.S. House of Representatives (U.S. Constitution, Art. I, Sect. I: "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives = Representative (informally known as a "congressman" or "congresswoman)

Member of the U.S. Senate = Senator

Balance of Powers Doctrine: See Article I, Sect. 1, Article II, Sect. 1, and especially Art. 3, Sect. 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution. In short, it is not the job of the U.S. Congress to interpret the U.S. Constitution. They would be well advised to write laws that don't violate it, but they are free to do so.

You, Blog, would do well not to genuflect too enthusiastically before the U.S. Congress's interpretative powers, subordinating your own "interpretations" of the Constitution to the those of Congress, lest that Congress become Democratic. I will remind you of your rather embarassing declaration of subservience in that event.

Have a nice day!

Todd,

That's fine and dandy. Now at least you are making a relevant point. As I said above, I welcome discussion and criticism about policy. In fact, that's why I participate on this blog and listen to Lee Pavao's commentaries on WCHL (which are frequently target at me).

I don't think it's unreasonable to agree with Congress' position on this issue, but nor do I think it's unreasonable to disagree with it. I happen to disagree with it. I think it’s bad public policy, and for what it’s worth so does every member of the Library Bd of Trustees and Town Council. The problem with your first post was that it confused a political question with a criminal one.

Moreover, I don't think it takes a J.D. to realize that throwing around accusations of "law-breaking" is highly inflammatory. If you do it irresponsibly, like you did above, people of conscience will call you out on it.

Very well said Joe. I don't know how many cases there have been in the last few years but the Library Board of Trustees also makes recommendations when the Library receives a challenge - yep, when people "challenge" something in the library that they feel is "inappropriate," there is a process followed to resolve the case. Fortunately during my time on the Board there were only a few, but they made you wonder why some people believed that they should determine what others might be able to read, see or hear. Their argument was usually that public money should not have been used to buy, process, maintain and/or store the "inappropriate" material, and it was usually "inappropriate" because of words, pictures or subject.

Let parents filter!

I've been a computer engineer my whole adult life, and am

a very frequent user of the internet, just as I am doing now.

I think I have a reasonable grasp on the technical issues that

are involved in filtering computer-stored and transmitted

information. As Paul Jones says, filtering is both personal

and ineffective.

I don't see much difference between the internet and

a library, bookstore or newstand. They all contain information --

true thru false, good thru bad, pretty thru ugly. Are we to filter every book in the library that contains words or pictures that

we find objectionable in some way? There probably aren't

enough magic markers in Chapel Hill.

I think that the library board is right on to avoid filtering. The

federal funds that we might lose are now miniscule. If they

start to become significant, we can rethink the issue then.

Todd,

Come on! No one's breaking a law. Your inflammatory language is ignorant and dangerous. There is no "federal mandate" operating here. Brief Constitutional Law summary for you ... Art. I of the US Constitution gives Congress limited powers (18 to be exact). Time and again Courts have had to slap Congress done for attempting to enact laws that reach beyond these specific powers. The law operating in this instance – CIPA – has been found Constitutional as an exercise of so-called “spending clause.” United States v. American Library Ass’n 539 US 194 (2003); U.S. Const., Art. I, § 8, cl.

The difference between using the Spending Clause and, oh, let’s say the power to "fix the standards of weights and measures" (Art. I, § 5) is that if Chapel Hill decided a pound in our town was heavier than a pound in Virginia, we would be breaking law in exactly the way your comments above imply. Use of the Spending Clause is very different. Congress uses the spending power to STRONGLY suggest, i.e. coerce, bribe, etc., a state to undertake a particular action or course that Congress itself is not constitutionally permitted to take. Refusing to comply with the SUGGESTION only results in Congress not spending money – in this case, Congress not spending $5000 on behalf of our library. You see, the decision about filtering the internet that are being discussed in this thread is a discussion about a decision left up to us at the State and local levels of government. Congress doesn't have authority here on this issue. The Constitution won't let them get involved. We can FREELY CHOOSE to comply and take the money, or FREELY CHOOSE not to and let them keep their money. Neither option can even remotely be considered "law breaking."

Criticize the policy choice if you will, but enough with the “law-breaker” accusations. Also, try reading the Patriot Act resolution we passed.

http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/records/minutes/2003/4a-10-08-03%20Business%20Meeting.htm

To say it advocates breaking the law is ridiculous. It is in fact a call to all levels of government and law enforcement to remember what the law IS, and to abide by the source of law in this country – the US Constitution.

Boy you guys have been busy! I'll try to catch up a little.

First the Trustees spent several meetings on this topic and, believe me, it was not taken lightly. A trip to Greensboro's wonderful new library where there is no filtering -- but the patrons are educated in age-appropriate information access -- was what, I believe, finally convinced all of the Trustees.

The decision not to use filtering does not condone illegal behavior in any way. Illegal sites and/or illegal uses of the Library computers should be and are dealt with in the policy that Fred Black has been kind enough to point out above.

Filters at home are your own business. I, since you asked, would encourage parental involvement with your children over technical interventions.

There are philosophical as well as practical reasons for this. The philosophical are fairly obvious. Parents need to be there for kids and to participate in the learning process. I woud say to help out more than to monitor, but also to train and to explain the family's values -- age-appropriate decisions made by concerned parents. As for practical considerations, I need only ask who on this discussion has enabled the V-chip on their television ;-> But also you should be informed that filters will not do the job that you might image that you are asking them to do -- you will still need to educate your children and work with them.

That said, you can at home put as much trust in flawed technology as you wish. And you can tune the filter, to your family's values (if you can program your vcr ;->). You can also choose a filter that is recommended by a group you trust.

Filtering is frankly very individual which is one reason why filtering pubic computers fails everyone.

For example, some parents hope to filter out 'hate speech' but a library cannot using a non-local and non-open vendor's software determine what constitutes such speech. And such speech is protected and so is not banned by CIPA.

Filters at the Library cannot have the same rules as your computers at home might have and support the information access needs of all Chapel Hill citizens.

Education is something a library patron can take home and to other computers and use. FIlters are inconsistant and non-portable. Educated citizens are our strength and our aim. Just as the Library sponsors reading programs, encourages reading with your child, and book clubs, we need to be sponsoring information literacy.

Filters are not foolproof. Young children should always have supervision when working on the internet and older children should be taught the information literacy and evaluative skills necessary to know when to avoid certain sites. If we teach our children, regardless of their ages, how to be informed users of the internet, then filters are not needed. The staffing/maintenance required to manage a filtering system, regardless of how many computers use the filters, will take funds away from other projects/services.

Terri makes a very good point about this requiring a human engineering not a software engineering fix. On the technical front - the 'net doesn't stand still. Even if todays filters worked %100, people on the other-side are agressively working to subvert them. But they aren't %100 are they? If you're a concerned parent, the solution is to sit down and monitor your childs use, to teach them good 'net techniques and to use the same level of control you would when you leave them alone with your cable TV.

Of course, there's the very troubling aspect of filters that hasn't been mentioned - they work to monitor and track patrons use of the 'net.

I haven't used our libraries terminals, but in Wake County, you have use your library card to log in and use the 'net. Given all the recent reprehensible behavior of our administration, the TIA, CAPPSII, etc. malarky, the cascade of RIAA lawsuits, the provisions buried in the 226 page Patriot Act I and the looming Patriot Act II, do we really want to create a system which actively monitorsour library patrons browsing habits?

How long before we have secret, indiscrimate, FBI requests for surfing logs from our library? We live in a liberal community, there's no telling how many of our citizens might be pursuing research dangerous to their political mental health. We already have "der Furors" ;-) Homeland defense pawing through library and bookstore records - conducting fishing expeditions to try to root out those that aren't 'right thinking'. So, as a policy, do we want our town to make this boorish behavior easier or harder?

thanks for the link, Fred.

Does anyone know if the Librarians can require or request that a patron log off of a pornographic website if the Librarian sees the person on it? Just curious.

Anita,

Go to http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/library/policies/index.htm

for the policies currently in effect.

Are you really suggesting that pedophiles will be using the library to peruse their rot? Next you'll be claiming that kids will be drug back into the stacks and molested!

This is the classic problem with your side of the aisle Mr. Blog, a determined short-term focus that leads to cascading unintended consequences.

If it'll make you feel any more comfortable, China is filtering their side of the net, maybe that's the totalitarian model we should follow?

Filters work better than nothing and my young children have no use for "important health and medical information."

What's wrong with having a couple of computers for our use in the library as long as there are nonfiltered computers for others' use?

Allowing parental choice can only be a good thing. Pretty reasonable proposal.

For information on the American Libraries Association (ALA) position on internet filtering/Children's Internet Privacy Act, see:

http://www.ala.org/ala/washoff/WOissues/civilliberties/cipaweb/cipa.htm

The Council already voted unanimously to support the proposal from the citizen Trustees of the Chapel Hill Public Library. That proposal was not to filter the libraries public access or staff computers.

Instead the Trustees, who were also unanimous in their desire to ban filters, urged the Library staff to follow the American Library Association suggestions to educate patrons about age-appropriate sites and portals for those underage including Yahooligans, Starchild and others.

The Trustees (I am one) felt that filters are false promises is two ways. First filters do not truely protect the users from the materials banned in CIPA (CIPA only requires that illegal images be blocked). Second filters have been shown by Finkelstein and others to block appropriate sites including those with important health and medical information.

The Trustees felt strongly that information education is a major service of a public library and their unanimous vote supports that philosophy.

BTW neither the Manager's proposal nor the Trustees' proposal would make CHPL CIPA compliant.

Paul,

You seem to be very informed about this.

Do you recommend parents don't employ filters at home?

It does not surprise me, but it worries me that Chapel Hill would continue to ignore Federal mandates like this, and parts of the Patriot Act. It shows how people get elected to break laws around this area, and people love it.

Now at least pedophiles without hi-speed Internet have one town to come to for free, undeterred porn, paid for by the taxpayer. Hope your kids enjoy the company!

ToddtheBlog

Are you really suggesting that pedophiles will be using the library to peruse their rot? Next you'll be claiming that kids will drug back into the stacks and molested!

This is the classic problem with your side of the aisle Mr. Blog, a determined short-term focus that leads to cascading unintended consequences.

If it'll make you feel any more comfortable, China is filtering their side of the net, maybe that's the totalitarian model we should follow?

 

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