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4.5 Where do librarians stand on the use of software filters to screen content on library Internet stations?




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This article is from the Libraries FAQ, by Anthony Wilson paw@iglou.com with numerous contributions by others.

4.5 Where do librarians stand on the use of software filters to screen content on library Internet stations?

Content filtering software - AKA cyberfilters, AKA censorware - are
attempts to clean up the Internet for use in public libraries. The
concern generally centers over objectionable or adult material that
children may be exposed to. Foul language, sexually explicit graphics,
and pages with violent or anarchical subject matter are usually
targeted. Software filters use some combination of three strategies
for limiting access to web sites:

1. Build and maintain a list of forbidden sites. Problem: while there
are certain high profile adult sites that might be easily screened, it
is impossible to keep up with the thousands of web sites that are
being created every day.

2. Scan web pages for certain objectionable words or phrases. Problem:
this system usually brushes with too broad a stroke; conventional
bookstores, educational sites, and health organizations are often
trashed along with the "Teen Smut" pages.

3. Voluntary ratings adopted by web sites and acknowledged by the
browser, i.e. Platform for Internet Content (PIC)
http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/PICS/ and Recreational Software Advisory
Council (RSACi) http://www.rsac.org . Problems: (a) the ACLU has
opposed voluntary ratings, citing government pressure on web sites to
self-censor, http://www.aclu.org/news/n080797a.html ; (b) there not
enough sites currently participating in the rating programs (300+?) to
make them a useful tool for libraries.

The major players in the filter business are:

Cyber Patrol http://www.cyberpatrol.com/
CYBERsitter http://www.cyberpatrol.com/
Net Nanny http://www.netnanny.com/
SurfWatch http://www.surfwatch.com/
Library Channel http://www.vimpact.net/tlc.htm

For a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the various filters,
see Karen G. Schneider's The Internet Filter Assessment Project,
http://www.bluehighways.com/tifap/ . "The Internet Filter Assessment
Project began in April, 1997 as a volunteer project led by librarian
Karen G. Schneider to assess Internet filters used to block sites
and/or keywords. This project arose from a growing concern by many
librarians over the use of Internet filters in library systems. Over
30 librarians and information specialists have volunteered in the
assessment phase."

Censorware.Ørg, http://censorware.org , is the home of The Censorware
Project, "a group dedicated to exposing the phenomenon of censorware."
Censorware.Ørg is definitely anti-"filtering products", but it is
still a good source for news and information regarding filters in
libraries.

The pro-filter point of view can be found at David Burt's Filtering
Facts, http://www.filteringfacts.org . "FF supports the voluntary use
of filters by libraries. FF does not support legislative efforts to
mandate that libraries install filters."

The ALA has come out against the use of filtering software in
libraries:

Resolution on the Use of Filtering Software in Libraries
http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/filt_res.html

"RESOLVED, That the American Library Association affirms that the use
of filtering software by libraries to block access to constitutionally
protected speech violates the Library Bill of Rights. "
( NOTE: You'll find the electronic version of ALA Library Bill of
Rights at http://www.ala.org/oitp/ebillrits.html)

For more information on filters and the issues involved, I suggest the
following online articles:

Understand Software that Blocks Internet Sites
by Lisa Champelli, The Internet Advocate
A Web-based Resource Guide for Librarians and Educators Interested in
Providing Youth Access to the Net
http://www.monroe.lib.in.us/~lchampel/netadv4.html

Looking at Filters, PC magazine
http://www8.zdnet.com/pcmag/features/utility/filter/_open.htm#top

Internet World, September, 1996
http://www.iw.com/1996/09/safe.html

Internet Freedoms and Filters: Roles and Responsibilities of the
Public Librarian on the World Wide Web
by James LaRue
http://www.csn.net/~jlarue/iff.html

Filtering the First Amendment for Public Libraries: A Look at the
Legal Landscape
by Mary Minow
http://www.best.com/~tstms/filte.html

Filtering the Internet in American Public Libraries: Sliding Down the
Slippery Slope
by Jeannette Allis Bastian,
http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue2_10/bastian/

 

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