From: Karee Swift (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Aug 04 2000 - 11:21:39 PDT
[My comment to all this, other than how much censorship blows, is why
weren't we giving as much of a shit when books were being banned for
the same reasons? --BB]
Checking Out Library Censorship
Posted by JonKatz on Friday August 04, @06:30AM
from the public-as-in-"library" dept.
If you're looking for a political issue that will advance freedom,
support the growth and innovation of technology, support younger
geeks (and adults) who depend on libraries for access to the Net and
Web, and also strike a blow against the Luddites who dominate
Congress and media, there's a great cause for you: your local library
needs some help. Enlightened educators and librarians are seeking
help in blocking imminent federal legislation that would require the
installation of filtering software on all school and library
computers connected to the Net.
This provision ought to be called "The Local Net Censorship Act" --
and it's close to becoming law. Lawmakers in both the House and the
Senate approved a final version late last week, agreeing on a
compromise approach containing elements of separate plans passed in
the two chambers earlier this year. It would require all schools and
libraries to install filtering software regulating the content
available to any computers purchased with Federal money, blocking
child pornography, obscenity and materials deemed harmful to minors.
Schools and libraries would also be required to develop Net use
policies that address minors' online access to "inappropriate"
Much of the tech culture was asleep at the switch when the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act was passed, giving corporations
unprescedented control of American intellectual property, and is now
paying for its apathy. This law could increase liability for schools
and libraries, give local politicians and religious crazies a
significant new weapon to ban access in public institutions to
material they consider offensive or inappropriate.
Representatives are already lining up to lengthen the list of sites
and subjects considered "inappropriate." Sen. John McCain of Arizona
is pushing his own filtering provision in the Senate, where an
amendment by Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has just added the
further requirement that communities be able to provide input about
blocking other "inappropriate" Web sites that mention bomb-making,
drugs or other topics.
As most of the people reading this know, blocking and filtering
programs are arbitrary and wildly ineffective. While savvy users can
easily bypass them, these filters hide from most users vast amounts
of legitimate information along with so-called "offensive" content.
This law is a license for every political interest group to keep
subjects they don't like out of local libraries and schools. The
victims would be kids with nowhere but libraries to go for Net
access. Most filtering programs are censorship technology, pure and
simple, but at the same time less effective than simple adult or
parental supervision. They are not justified by any meaningful
statistics regarding children and the Internet -- perhaps because
there really aren't any.
Instead of tying the hands of educators and librarians, government
should be doing everything possible to ensure that as many kids as
possible have free access to the Net and the Web, because it will be
vital to their social, educational and economic opportunities. Laws
like this demonstrate how profoundly and dangerously ignorant of
technology most of our elected leaders are, and how vulnerable to
their ignorance the tech culture is.
The National Education Association is fighting the law -- the still
nameless legislation is attached to legislation funding the Labor,
Health and Human Services and Education departments. The American
Library Association is in on the fight, too, since the bill would for
the first time force public libraries to follow the same access
policies as schools. But hardly anyone in Congress will dare
defend "pornography" and "offensive" material.
"For a library, it's a different ball game," a spokeswoman for the
ALA told The New York Times. "If you have to filter any machine a
child may use, in a library, you'd have to filter every computer. It
disregards age-appropriate levels." This means older children,
teenagers and adults would be arbitrarily censored by any local
community that didn't like a particular kind of Web site or subject
matter, from abortion information to anything resembling sexual
imagery. And kids in schools would be subject to even more controlled
than they already are.
Libraries -- and local communities -- already have the freedom to
establish controls ranging from increased supervision to some kinds
of filtering if they wish. Most libraries and schools also have the
ability to block sites if they are deemed dangerous and offensive.
There is absolutely no reason for Congress to make censorship
technology universal and required by law. The federal provision would
further complicate Net access issues for libraries, since their
environments are less controlled than a public school. Libraries are
open to all ages, including adults -- who have a First Amendment
right to access a broader range of materials on the Net than the
proposed congressional filtering arrangement would allow. Libraries
also fear that the law would expose libraries to a wave of new
lawsuits demanding they filter -- in accordance with federal law --
any site that could be considered "inappropriate" or "offensive" by
any elements of any local community. Passage of this law would force
local libraries to radically increase filtering of the Net.
Most of us don't need to go to the library for Net access, but
millions of people -- mostly kids -- do. They are entitled to some
kinds of First Amendment protection as well as we are. This is a
dangerous law, one which injects federal moral guardians directly
into the issue of Net access. History tell us this is an awful idea.
If you're in the mood to contact your local congressman or woman,
this is a great reason to do it. For further information, you can
also contact the National Education Association and the American
--- End forwarded message ---
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