The Role of Public Librarians in Determining Internet Access
While many filtering software packages exist, each product seems to have its own problems. Both innocent content and material deemed harmful can be blocked by the same filtering package. In addition, the mandatory use of filtering software in public libraries has inherent problems, both from technical and social standpoints.
A. HOW FILTERING SOFTWARE WORKS
B. PROBLEMS WITH FILTERING SOFTWARE
In general, filtering software works in one of three ways:
According to those who oppose filtering software in libraries, filters are perfectly appropriate at home because parents select the company that determines the content their children access on the Internet and that decision only affects the family. However, critics such as the American Library Association have argued that the use of filtering software in public libraries results in librarians not knowing what or how content is filtered since software is proprietary information. Even though the secrecy may be an economic necessity, the process of making decisions without adequate information seems to be in opposition to the role of a librarian.
Supporters of library filters, however, have argued that using such filters is analogous to choosing not to acquire material, something that librarians face every day due to limited budgets and shelf space. In addition, since librarians already allow outside vendors to choose other materials, such as CD-ROMS and books bought on an approval plan, retired librarian David Bruce and other filtering proponents have said that using filtering software vendors is no different than using book and CD vendors.
Filtering software can give parents and the government a false sense of security, however. Even if government-mandated filtering software is installed in public libraries, patrons still could be exposed to sexually explicit material and other material deemed "harmful."
Since no program can process context, filtering software cannot distinguish between constitutionally-protected speech, such as literature, and speech which receives no First Amendment protection, such as obscenity. This inability to make such an important distinction is a simple human truth, rather than a design flaw, and therefore, it is unlikely to be remediable in the future, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
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