Magazine article Information Today

CIPA Hearings Wrap Up; Decision Expected This Month

Magazine article Information Today

CIPA Hearings Wrap Up; Decision Expected This Month

Article excerpt

After 9 days in federal court, the civil case brought against the U.S. government jointly by the Multnomah County (Oregon) Public Library, the American Library Association (ALA), and the American Civil Liberties Union came to a close on April 4. The case, heard by a three-judge panel in Philadelphia, challenged the constitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires that libraries install filtering software on all computers with Internet access in order to receive federal funds. A decision is expected by the end of this month.

CIPA was enacted by Congress in December 2000 as an attempt to protect children from online pornography. (See the December 26, 2000 Weekly News Digest at http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/ wnd001226.htm.) At the heart of the debate are two key issues: the efficacy of filtering software and the nature and intent of libraries in general.

In closing statements, ALA and Multnomah County lawyers tackled the first point, saying the main problem with CIPA is that filtering software is not yet up to the task of effectively separating legal from illegal material, thus threatening to block adults' access to sites they should be allowed to see. They said that "between 6 and 15 percent of blocks that occur are overblocked" by the software.

ALA witness Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor in the department of linguistics at Stanford University, testified on the first day of the trial that the filtering options available today (such as SmartFilter, Net Nanny, BESS, and Cyber Patrol) are incapable of blocking pornographic images only (as CIPA requires). In order to block illegally obscene photographs, Nunberg said, the filters must block all images, and often also block text. Since current software cannot tell the difference, for example, between a photograph on a hardcore porn site, a painting of a nude figure, and text about nudity, it blocks them all. …

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