Recently the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) hosted day-and-a-half symposium to look at how libraries have implemented the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) over the last 10 years since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law’s constitutionality. Symposium participants reviewed old issues (such as the fact commercial filtering companies decide what is blocked and do not share this information with libraries and schools), as well as new ones (inhibiting user-generated content) that have emerged as the internet and technology tools continue to evolve.
The OITP/OIF partnership is a natural. Both offices are deeply concerned with ensuring the public—whether minors or adults—has equitable access to digital resources and information. As the names imply, together these offices offer a comprehensive view of the technical, intellectual and policy issues impacted by internet filtering.
The symposium, the midway point in a larger project on CIPA (funded by Google, Inc.), brought together 35 experts representing school, public, and academic librarians, as well as representatives from educational associations, education technology, IT networking, and non-profit policy organizations and think tanks.
We began our work with a background paper that reviewed the legal history behind CIPA and some of the court cases that have since arisen. The preliminary research also reviewed filtering technologies and how they might have (or not) improved during the subsequent 10 years of CIPA. Perhaps most importantly, the paper began to consider potential long-term impacts of filtering on both minors and the broader general public, especially now that collaborative, interactive online activities have proliferated our common culture, and so many of our daily activities require internet connectivity and digital literacy. What if your only access to online information is filtered access?
Symposium participants delved into these topics and unearthed others to aid both OITP and OIF in understanding to what extent filtering remains an issue for meeting student, teacher and community information needs and how it may be more negatively impactful now than in the early years of CIPA. Though the first day of the symposium was “closed door” to allow for necessary open and frank discussions, the second day included two Google Hangouts (archived on the ALA Washington Office YouTube channel) in which symposium participants shared much of the previous day’s discussions. While many of us are familiar with the challenges librarians face in weighing CIPA requirements, implicated federal funding for libraries, and deep-seated library values, the symposium provided a multi-faceted lens of collective expertise and insights how access to information has changed over the past decade and areas where we need more research.
It is clear that filtering has broad ramifications for individual and societal success. In fact, we are at a critical juncture where technology use has become such an integral part of how we learn, communicate, develop competencies, and ultimately compete in the global economy. We must guide policy — federal, state, and local — so that it is flexible enough to mirror pedagogical shifts and keep pace with technological advances. OITP and OIF will produce a final white paper sharing background, key findings and recommendations from the symposium later this fall.
Where will we stand in 2023?