ALA-Google Symposium on “Revisiting the Children’s Internet Protection Act: 10 Years Later”

Revisiting CIPA[Updated with links and summary comments at bottom of post]

I have been invited to join a gathering of national library, education, technology, legal and policy experts for a national symposium hosted by the American Library Association and Google considering the impact of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) on access to electronic information July 29 and 30. Librarians & researchers nationwide can join the virtual conversation with two Google Hangouts on July 30. “Revisiting the Children’s Internet Protection Act: 10 Years Later” is part of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and Office for Intellectual Freedom’s (OIF) larger project on CIPA and access to information, made possible through support of Google, Inc. A white paper will be released this fall.

The first Hangout will start at 11 a.m. EDT and focus on an “Introduction and Overview of CIPA 10 Years Later.” The second one will share “Symposium Themes and Conclusions” starting at 12:15 p.m. EDT. Participants will join a wide range of experts as they share insights looking at legal, ethical, and political implications of how the CIPA requirements have been implemented in the past 10 years. Did CIPA meet its intended goals, and have there been unintended consequences?

Here’s how to join the conversation:

  • You can watch the live stream directly on YouTube on the ALA Washington Office channel. ALA will tweet the URL using #CIPA_ALA13 at 10:45am EDT, right before the Hangout goes live.
  • You can also tweet @oitp using our hash tag #CIPA_ALA13. We’ll be watching the Twitter feed and passing these comments to the speakers, as well.

Participants are encouraged to actively share their experiences, reflections and questions via tweets and online comment boards. ALA will use the back-channel conversation to inform our ongoing work on libraries and the impacts of filtering on access to information.

The Hangouts also will be archived on the ALA Washington Office YouTube channel after the event.

:: UDPATE ::

The symposium was a huge success. The first day was dedicated to our private meeting, attended by librarians, teachers, lawyers, administrators, and other practioners who reflected and shared their own perspectives of CIPA, its implementation, and its impact. Some of the key themes included:

  • Concerns on over-implementing CIPA; misunderstandings of what law requires
  • Helping stakeholders understand we’re trying to help prepare students for success (academic, career, life)
  • Need for clearinghouse for research, model policies
  • Inefficacy of filtering technology; create more problems than they solve; don’t guarantee legal protection
  • Filters encourage circumvention, lack of respect for law
  • Need for additional research (long-term impact, demographic variances, etc)
  • Need for better messaging to communicate with patrons, community members, policy makers, media
  • How do libraries implement filtering and facilitate community engagement when you have to filter

I was asked to share my thoughts on CIPA from the perspective of information policy and ethics. Here’s the rough outline of my remarks and prompts to the group:

Traditional policy & ethical concerns

  • Censorship & 1st Amendment rights
  • Over-filtering, faulty technology
  • Intellectual freedom, viewpoint discrimination
  • Privacy of patron asking for filter removed

Is there a way to change the conversation from intellectual freedom to something that more can find reasons to support (or fewer reasons to object)?

Consider how now many pro-security Conservatives are suddenly upset about widespread government surveillance….    was always a fight of privacy vs. security, and now folks are starting to come onto the privacy side.

With CIPA, been a fight of “intellectual freedom” vs. “pornography and kids” — how can we change this debate? Are there ways of reframing impacts of CIPA to draw different kinds of support?

Broader concerns to refocus our efforts and message:

  • Privacy
    • Does software track patron activity?
    • Vendor aggregate or share that info?
    • Has the “privacy calculus” changed for the public in terms of assessing privacy threats by such monitoring?
    • Can we leverage current concerns of overreaching by govt surveillance to push for greater transparency (if not reduced use) of Internet filtering implementations in schools and libraries?
  • Equitable access
    • Patrons who can’t afford home broadband or mobile disproportionately impacted by filtering
    • Libraries with less resources (rural, urban) less likely to forgo e-rate discounts, so those patrons disproportionately subjected to filtering
    • Also less skilled for overcoming filtering (through better searches, or tech measures)
  • Capabilities, not just freedom
    • Move beyond threats to intellectual freedom, and push for consideration of how filtered Internet impacts capabilities and ability for patrons to achieve/attain their full potential (not just access, but equitable and useful access)
    • Clued tie this to ability to educate and gain employment…..economic development
    • Also limited access to diverse or challenging information impedes ability to learn the critical thinking skills necessary to deal with such information….or the digital literacy skills necessary to properly seek quality information online — how do we teach “21st century skills” or “digital citizenship” while blocking access to controversial material…
  • Leads to re-framing as social justice, not just right to access….
    • Impact directly contradicts the goals of e-rate program: cheaper Internet for libraries/schools who need to provide access to those most in need of information to improve themselves

Even broader concerns:

  • Has the presence of filtering in libraries become normalized? The assumption that monitoring Internet activity is standard practice and not worrisome?
  • If the library isn’t viewed as the safe haven for information seeking, where is it occurring now, and to what effect?
    • Are users vulnerable when seeking for info outside library environs?
    • What other information seeking isn’t happening at the library due to fears of filtering (even if unrelated)

Day two of the event was dedicated to the public Google Hangouts, to engage in a broader discussion and sharing of information. The recordings are available here:

I was asked to share a framework for a research agenda to help support our efforts and understanding of CIPA. Here’s my rough notes:

Research group:  Identify research questions that will further the library profession’s (and other stakeholders) understanding of  how filtering content for young people is having an impact on their long-term capacity to develop critical thinking skills, to become productive and engaged adults, and to ultimately contribute to a globally competitive 21st century society.

  • How is filtering implemented in particular locations: how installed and controlled? are filters lifted when asked? what policies in place?
  • What is the economics of filtering? How does cost of filtering compare with e-rate savings?
  • Looking back 10 years, what educational outcomes can be matched to whether schools/libraries engage in filtering?
  • How does implementation & effects of filtering differ among different ethnic or socioeconomic groups (neighborhoods)?
  • What are student options of filtering, and strategies for dealing with it?
  • What messaging works for these issues when working with policy makers, media, parents, administrators, etc
  • How can we increase awareness of what is being blocked? Can we create a crowd-sourcing platform like the Open Net Initiative that reports filtering activities and practices nationwide

We’re hoping to be able to create partnerships between libraries, schools, academics, research centers, and funding agencies to pursue these research questions and gain a better understanding of the information environment that has emerged 10 years since CIPA.

Overall, I left this symposium energized to continue to engage with the ethical issues of Internet filtering. It was a wonderful experience.


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