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CIPA FAQs

June 2003 Update:
In June of 2002 a three panel Federal Court ruled CIPA unconstitutional freeing libraries from its requirement. Last week the Supreme Court reversed this ruling reinstating CIPA.

1. What is CIPA?
CIPA stands for the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), passed by Congress as part of a major spending bill (H.R. 4577) on December 15, 2000, and signed into law by President Clinton on December 21, 2000 (Public Law 106-554). CIPA places restrictions on the use of funding that is available through LSTA (the Library Services and Technology Act, Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), and on the Universal Service discount program known as the E-rate. These restrictions take the form of requirements for Internet safety policies and technology protection measures that block or filter certain material from being accessed through the Internet. The law became effective on April 20, 2001.

2. How does CIPA affect public libraries?
Libraries that want to continue to receive e-rate reimbursements or discounts for Internet access will need to comply with CIPA requirements. Specifically, that means adopting an Internet Safety Policy in accordance with CIPA's requirements, holding at least one public hearing on this Policy, and installing and activating technology protection measures on all PCs in the library.

3. Is there anything my library needs to do right away?
No. We need to hear how the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) intends for libraries to implement CIPA now that it has been upheld. Then we will find out which funding year the requirements will apply to. Check out the FCC statement made June 23rd, 2003 - they state that "Before the effective date of the Supreme Court’s decision the Commission will provide further guidance on a reasonable schedule for libraries to acquire and install filtering software, consistent with their certification obligations under CIPA."

4. What actions will libraries be required to do in order to comply with CIPA?
As far as E-rate discounts are concerned, if a library chooses to apply only for telephone or data line reimbursement and not any Internet access reimbursement, then CIPA regulations will not apply to that library.

If your library does choose to apply for Internet access reimbursement as well, an "Internet Safety Plan" must be written and include the use of filtering technology on all PCs in the library (not just those in a designated children's or young adult area), or the library must demonstrate that it is taking measures toward implementing such technology. Those measures could include researching, investigating, or getting cost quotes on filters.

Please note that it is a federal offense to certify for the e-rate program that you have an Internet Safety Plan when in fact you do not.

5. Since CIPA is concerned with Internet access, if my library only requests reimbursement for telephone voice, data or fax lines and not Internet access, will CIPA requirements still be enforced?
The understanding is that only libraries applying for Internet access reimbursement under E-rate need comply with CIPA.

6. Why are some public libraries and the ALA so upset by the prospect of filtering to protect children from obscene materials on the Internet?
The Mid-Hudson Library System believes the decision on how best to protect minors from obscene materials is a local library board decision. CIPA usurps the power of local library boards and library staff. According to ALA's Web site, "Libraries already have policies and programs to ensure children have an enriching and safe online experience. More than 95 percent of public libraries have Internet-use policies that were created with community input and local control, and they offer classes on how to use the Internet to get good information. In our libraries, we find kids use the Internet the same way they use other library services. They work on homework assignments, read about sports, music and other interests, and communicate with their friends. The vast majority of children and adults continue to use the library responsibly and appropriately."

In regards to filtering software, at this time there is no existing filtering or blocking technology that blocks access only to speech that is obscene, child pornography or harmful to minors. On the other hand there is no filtering technology that exists that protects children from all objectionable materials.

CIPA requires that the technology protection measures, a.k.a filters, be installed on all PCs in the library. Any adults who want to use the Internet without these filters must make that request to a library staff member, who can then disable the filter. When that person is done, a library staff member must then go and enable the filter again.

7. Libraries determine which titles they purchase. Why not use filters to keep out those Internet materials the library doesn't want?
Filtering software is not based on a library's collection development policies or standards. Filtering technology is not subtle enough to distinguish between sources such as Hustler and Shakespeare, because they operate by spotting words. The word "sex", whether in a medical context, a law book or a classic poem, is all a filter needs to "see" to block that page or the whole Web site. Filters have been shown to block access to medical information, political information and information related to the arts and literature.

In addition, the makers of these filters have not been willing to share their methodology for choosing words to look for or sites they block out, because they consider their "blacklists" to be proprietary. Libraries would be purchasing a product to perform "collection development" without having any knowledge of the policy underpinning it. And users do not really know what sites are being blocked.

Also of concern is just what the vendors of filtering are doing with data they collect. It has been reported recently that one major filtering company (N2H2) was selling data it secretly collected about children's surfing habits.

Finally, most of the filtering technology products tested recently by Consumer Reports failed to block one objectionable site in five.


8. Who should we contact at MHLS for further assistance?
Joshua Cohen, Executive Director, MHLS x17 or jcohen@midhudson.org





last updated: June 30, 2003

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