NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Few Paid Attention to "Children's Internet Protection Act"

July 1, 2003

Alarmed that some minors were going to libraries and frequenting pornographic Web sites, Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act" in 2000. Parents and anxious members of the public congratulated themselves that they had acted in the best interests of the children and all was now well.

Few recognized that the law never really took effect. A court challenge held it in abeyance and the software filters that were supposed to block access to certain sites were never activated -- leaving professional librarians to exercise their common sense and judgment.

  • Last Monday, however, the Court upheld the act, meaning that filters -- and their "one size fits all" approach -- will replace individual judgments.
  • Critics claim that librarians have always been free to use filters, but chose not to.
  • As of 2000, before the law was passed, only 17 percent of public libraries had installed filters on any of their Internet terminals, and only 7 percent had installed them on all of their computers.
  • Librarians had discovered that the filters are so crude that they often censor innocuous material while letting the objectionable stuff right on through.

The saving grace of the law, the court said, is that adults can always ask that the filter be turned off. But the law itself doesn't say such requests must be accommodated -- only that they "may" be. Even then, the filters may be disabled only for adults who have "bona fide research or other lawful purposes." In other words, you can see anything the government thinks you should see.

Source: Steve Chapman, "The Law No One Missed," Washington Times, June 29, 2003.


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