Federal Library Group Frowns on Internet Filtering

February 17, 1999 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO–While Congress considers laws mandating that libraries install Net screening software, a federal commission has determined that local communities– not the government– should be making these rules, CNET’s News.com reports.

The National Commission on Libraries & Information Science, an agency that advises Congress and the president, went one step further by stating that if libraries want to limit children’s Net access they should adopt “acceptable use” policies.

“NCLIS believes that libraries and their governing boards can take effective action at the local level to mitigate the perils facing children using the Internet,” the commission concluded. “Thus, the commission strongly recommends that each library have a written ‘acceptable use policy,’ approved by its governing structure and reviewed periodically to adjust to the continuous changes in the Internet.”

The commission did not advocate installing software to censor certain Web sites–although it did acknowledge, among numerous suggestions, that blocking software was one way libraries could choose to curtail children’s access to select content.

The recommendation is a blow to those who want to require that all libraries hinder entry to online pornography or other material that is “harmful to minors.” The resolution also flies in the face of federal legislation to mandate libraries to screen online content as a condition of getting federal Net access subsidies known as the e-rate.

“If there were one cookie cutter stamped out by the federal government that said how a library should operate, everybody would be dissatisfied,” said Robert Willard, executive director of the commission. “Libraries are the level of government closest to the people–it is not appropriate for the federal government to step in.”

Free-speech advocates, who have sparred with libraries over blocking access at Net terminals used by adults in the name of protecting children, were positive about the NCLIS stance.

“I think it’s a very good sign,” said Chris Hansen, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney. “The commission is correctly suggesting that the federalization of this issue is not a wise alternative.”

In a June 1999 report, Censorship in a Box: Why Blocking Software is Wrong for Public Libraries, the ACLU said that the mandatory use of Internet blocking software in libraries is inappropriate and unconstitutional.

Source: News.com, http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,32492,00.html, Feb. 17, 1999

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