Magazine article American Libraries

Internet-Regulation Bills Abound, Rebound for Libraries

Magazine article American Libraries

Internet-Regulation Bills Abound, Rebound for Libraries

Article excerpt

The same legislative year that saw the passage--and immediate challenge--of the Children's Internet Protection Act (see p. 12) also saw a virtual armada of pro-filtering legislation set sail at the state level. However, lawmakers for the most part either scuttled filter mandates or watered them down to require that schools and public libraries establish written acceptable-use policies (AUPs)--which, ironically, most libraries have anyway.

David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition (an 18-year-old First Amendment watchdog group) credits, in part, the advisory role of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) for the victories. When librarians talk about the profession's mission--providing patrons with as much information as possible--"that carries a great deal of weight" with legislators, he told American Libraries. Besides, Horowitz added, more lawmakers are discovering that filters also block materials they themselves consider appropriate for minors.

Ironically, at least one filter manufacturer also seems reluctant to have the government require library patrons to use blocking software. As Massachusetts legislators debated HB 3428, which would require AUPs in public libraries, the Westborough, Massachusetts-based Internet filtering software company SurfControl issued a statement June 4 suggesting that mandated filtering laws were unnecessary.

"Most schools and many libraries have already installed filters to help implement their policies for the acceptable use of computers," SurfControl Vice President Susan Getgood said. "Decisions about whether to install filtering technology should be made locally, not handed down from state or federal governments." Getgood emphasized that her company, which manufactures CyberPatrol software, believes filters work. "We just don't think the government needs to get involved mandating any technology, even our own."

While the bill does not mandate filtering software, it indicates that library policies may prohibit users from accessing, in addition to the usual sex and nudity, "information encouraging or advocating satanic cults, intolerance, militant or extremist behavior, violence or profanity and the sale, consumption or production of illicit drugs, alcohol or tobacco products."

"I fully understand the argument that at a public library there should be unfettered access to everything," Republican Party Chairman Brian Cresta, who supports the bill, told the Associated Press June 2. "But there are some people who use the Internet for wrong purposes...some of them illegal." The legislation was still in the House Judiciary Committee as of mid-July.

Dollars and sensibilities

In Colorado, a last-minute amendment attached to a filtering bill led to its undoing in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee May 7 added an amendment to HB 1376 requiring the state to foot the bill for purchasing filtering software in all schools and libraries. The Denver Rocky Mountain News reported May 9 that estimates ranged from $500,000 to more than $1.7 million. The committee voted 6-4 to postpone the bill indefinitely. However, the library community won't be letting its guard down because they "anticipate a similar bill next year, since this was a pet project of Gov. Bill Owens," Martin Garnar, chair of the Colorado Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee, told AL. Owens began promoting filter-mandate legislation shortly after the Columbine High School shootings two years ago (AL, Aug. 1999, p. 18-19).

In Virginia, an anti-pornography activist scored a victory July 1 when a law went into effect that mandates filters for public-school computers. Its sponsor in the state assembly was Rep. Richard H. Black (R-Sterling), the former Loudoun County (Va.) Library trustee who penned a systemwide filter-mandate policy that was overturned in federal district court in 1998 (AL, Jan. …

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