A blog about a possible internet filtering solution for libraries

Library Internet Filtering

Frankly, I think the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Children's Internet Protection Act case was wrong.
It is virtually always wrong to censor information, especially in a library. But that is how the law in the United States stands at the moment and if a library accepts federal funding it must install internet filtering technology on all of its internet enabled computers.

This website is about a particular internet filtering product IF 2K and its application to libraries.

This product is flexible, publishes its block list, is reasonably priced and it can be configured to meet library's particular requirements.

It is not a perfect solution but it is inexpensive and, with librarians' input, the least obnoxious filtering solution on the market.

Jay Currie

Friday, February 27, 2004

Pandering to Silly Parents

Alaska librarians are protesting a legislative move to force them to tell parents what books their kids are checking out.

June Pinnell-Stephens, collection services manager at the Noel Wien Public Library in Fairbanks, said the bill could allow parents to wield an "iron glove" over the content of everything their kids under 18 read.

"When you are talking about 17-year-olds, I think that is really unfortunate," she said.

Librarians say that there are kids who use public libraries as refuges, places to think and explore, and their privacy should be respected.

Parents and guardians, if they ask, can already see their kids' school library records. Wasilla Republican Sen. Lyda Green is pushing to give parents that right at all public libraries in Alaska.

Green said she sponsored the bill after getting a call from a woman in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The woman's 8-year-old son had put several books on hold from the children's section of the library. Later, the library called to say one of the books was available, Green said. The mother then inquired what book it was, she said.

"The library informed her that because of privacy laws, they would not reveal any information to the mother on the books that her 8-year-old was checking out," Green said.
Anchorage Daily News
While it sounds to me as if the privacy law in this case is a tad extreme, it makes sense to give children a degree of protection from parental snoopiness. And it makes no sense at all to put through a piece of legislation which suspends privacy protection in the case of children borrowing books from a library.

The assumption seems to be that parents have the right to know every single thing a child is doing in his or her life. In the old days that would be called neurotic overinvolvement. As a child grows up he or she needs an increasingly large area of private space. If the child does not get that space what will the child have learned by the time he or she is eighteen?

The obsessive need to monitor and supervise every instant of a child's life is neither healthy nor useful. Part of child rearing is creating independent adults at the end of the process. If a child has not a single private thought, not one place where they can be on their own, a parent is denying his or her child a vital part of growing up.

The silly senator who introduced this legislation could have done the world a favour by telling Mum to "Back off."

Silly Parents #1

I often wonder whether it wouldn't make more sense to built something which made parents and the people who pander to them a little brighter. Here from the LIS News is the reason that N2H2 actually has a block category called "Science".
Roxanne Cleasby, a parent of an 8-year-old student attending Smith Elementary School, filed a Request for Reconsideration of Educational Materials, urging the school district to remove a book from the Smith School library that she believes promotes evolution.

The book, titled "Horses" by Juliet Clutton-Brock, is part of the Eyewitness Books series and explains the origin of horses using the theory of evolution without suggesting the possibility of a creator.

Cleasby's complaint calls for either the removal of the entire book from the school's library or the removal of two pages - eight and nine - in the book that describe the evolutionary process.
independent record
I bet the book didn't suggest the possibility of aliens delivering horses to Earth either.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Library Filter Essentials

A number of sites including Walt Crawford's valuable Cites and Insights, Marylaine Brock's Ex Libris and Lori Ayer's blog have been discussing library filters. As I have been researching here is what I have come up with as essential in a filter for libraries:

Block List The starting point for virtually all filters is a list of sites which the filter will block. There are many ways of creating such a list and there are places on the net where you can buy a list which you are free to use and to edit.

Critically, no library should buy a filter which does not give its clients full access to their raw blocklist. If a library does not have access to the list its filter is using it cannot know what is on that list.

Phrase Filter A phrase filter is critical to the proper functioning of a filtering solution. In simplest terms a phrase filter looks at all of the text on a site and determines if that site contains material which should be blocked according to the settings on the filter.

In the early days of filtering phrase filters were crude - if they saw the word "breast" they might very well block the site. Needless to say, phrase filtering algorithms have improved. Now they look at the context in which a particular word is found and are able to discriminate between "big breast heaven" and "breast cancer clinic".

Phase filtering is key for another reason: to use my earlier examples, for example, www.rachelmarsden.com, www.ditavonteese.com and www.rebeccablood.net are all sites run by women. Only Dita is a porn star. A pure block list system could mean that a) all sites with women's names are blocked, b) no sites with women's names are blocked. Hand checking the literally millions of sites with women's names as their domain name is virtually impossible using a human generated list. With a phrase filter checking the sites, Dita would be easily identified as an adult site and the other two would pass.

White ListsThe ability to add lists of websites which must never be blocked is vital. Any filter which combines block lists with phrase filtering will make mistakes. Most of these mistakes are not going to be serious; but some could deprive teens of critical health information and all manner of other perfectly acceptable information.

White lists are lists of sites which, for one reason or another, a library feels strongly should not be blocked. Ideally, the ALA and libraries throughout the country will begin to compile subject specific white lists and set up an easy to access clearinghouse for those lists.

But this won't matter if the filter a library implements does not allow the inclusion of white lists or makes it hard to include them. A good filter will allow the library to cut and paste any list it wants into the whitelist folder. Those sites will then never be blocked.

Easy OffJaeger and McLure's article cited below on potential legal challenges to CIPA has to be borne in mind by a library choosing a filter.

The Supreme Court has modified CIPA to require that any library filter be capable of being turned off at the request of an adult patron for any reason whatsoever. The ACLU has stated it will be looking for test cases where the 1st amendment rights of adult patrons are restricted by a library.

Effectively this means an adult patron has the right to turn the filter off himself. If he does not have that capacity a library may very well be sued.

A patron activated over ride would seem to be the only way a library can be sure that it is complying with the Supreme Court's rewriting of CIPA.

Friday, February 20, 2004

CIPA Challenges

Libraries planning on implementing CIPA filtering should read Paul T. Jaeger and Charles R. McClure's article in First Monday Magazine on the potential legal challenges which may be mounted againt filters.

The key element to any 1st Ammendment attack on a library filter will be proving that the impostion of a filter in a particular situation leads to the infringement of an adult library patrons right to view legal material.
The majority in the 6–3 decision comprised a plurality opinion that represented the views of four Justices and two separate concurrences that each represented the view of a single Justice. The two Justices who each wrote a separate concurrence (Kennedy and Breyer) both based their upholding of CIPA very specifically on the text of the law, not its application. These two concurrences openly acknowledge the assumption that CIPA will not place inappropriate burdens on patrons and will not prevent the exercise of protected free speech activities in public libraries by adults. Justice Kennedy wrote, however, that if some libraries cannot unblock Web sites or if "it is shown that an adult user’s election to view constitutionally protected Internet material is burdened in some other substantial way," then CIPA should be challenged in its application [1]. The application of CIPA in public libraries may persuade the two concurring Justices that the decision does significantly limit constitutionally protected free speech. In such a case, the balance of the Supreme Court on the issue could shift significantly. This situation opens the door for legal challenges to CIPA as it is applied in public libraries based on the burdens it places on adult patrons’ ability to access constitutionally–protected free speech using the Internet.

The implementation of CIPA in public libraries has the potential of raising a wide range of First Amendment issues. Depending on the circumstances in individual libraries, many potential grounds for legal challenges to the constitutionality of the application of CIPA could arise. These challenges all relate to the fact that CIPA could significantly reduce the amount of free speech that adult patrons could access through the Internet in public libraries.
first monday
The last thing in the world a library wants to be hit by is a court challenge on how it has implemented a filter to comply with CIPA. And the best way of ensuring that does not happen is to allow adult patrons to over ride the filter by themselves without any librarian involvement.

People may object that this defeats the objective of CIPA - which may well be true. However, whatever the Congressional objectives in passing CIPA, the Supreme Court has required modifications to protect the intellectual freedoms of adults. The crucial thing is that the CIPA self certification process has to include the considerations the Supreme Court has imposed.

Not only must a library certify that it is complying with the requirments of CIPA, it is also implitedly required to implement those requirements in light of the Supreme Court's ruling. The good faith requirement of the FCC applies to both sides of this equation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Marylaine gets the tech wrong

Marylaine Brock at exlibris is worried that by putting filtering in place teenagers will not be allowed to access web sites such as www.goaskalice.columbia.edu.
But we do have a choice about CIPA, since it applies only to libraries that accept federal aid. Why aren't more librarians educating their boards about how filters interfere not only with the legitimate information needs of adults but those of teens as well? Why have so many librarians accepted filters for everyone under 18, when they know teens have different information needs than children? Why have so few voices in the library community spoken out and said, "Look, teens need good information about sex, and if we require them to use filtered workstations, we're failing to serve them."
If this were the case with all CIPA compliant filters Marylaine would have a point; but it isn't.

Most modern filters would not block this valuable site. But, if a library is concerned it should make sure that its filter allows the inclusion of never block white lists. Then, without too much trouble, it can include, to take a for instance, the entire Kaiser list of medical and health information websites used to test filters a few years ago. This would not violate CIPA, would ensure kids had the information they needed, and keep federal funds flowing.


Having moved to a lovely island just off the coast I'm back at library filters.

First up, Lori Ayre is shifting around to a more even handed position on filtering. I had rather thought she had gone to the dark side where all filters are the same and all are bad news....but no.

Her first entry is a checklist of key features for library filters. Here are the items.
Customizable Block Page

Flexibile Override Features

Accurate Block List

Feedback from Patrons

Ability to Manage Categories

Ability to "Disable" the Filter

Good Reporting Tools
All of these are important and I can only think of a couple of elements I'd add. First, make sure that the filter you select is compatible with the libraries overall acceptable use policy or, and this is critical, can be easily configured to comply. One size does not fit all and that means it should be easy to add and subtract URLs to a block list. Second, pay attention to price and the costs of implementation. There is no reason for a filter to be terribly expensive and there is no reason why it should require a team of rocket scientists to attach it to your system - try before you buy. Finally, does the filter use block lists and phrase filtering and is there a way of adding so-called white lists?

This last needs a bit of explaination. There are literally millions of porn sites and billions of porn URLs (and sites and URLs are not the same thing). A really decent block list will cover part of the porn universe but not all of it. Worse, it has to be updated. So while a block list is a part of a filtering system, a relatively sophisticated phrase filter can "filter on the fly". Which, of course, brings up the lack of sophistication a phrase filter suffers from in comparison with a human. Which brings up the third leg of the filtering tripod: white lists. It is a great deal easier to come up with lists of sites which should never be filtered than it is to make the call on whether, for example, www.rachelmarsden.com/, www.ditavonteese.com and www.rebeccablood.net/should be blocked. (In order, conservative columnist and female stalker, international burlesque star and Marilyn Manson's girlfriend, first female blogger on Instapundit's blogroll.) So being able to add white lists is a key filter feature.


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