Fear of Filtering: The Reality of Internet Content Management (Soreide DOC)


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Introduction – John Felton, NLC. One of the opportunities available to assist libraries in supporting their broadband connectivity costs is applying for E-rate discounts on internet service. This necessitates complying with the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) by filtering internet access. In this session we will hear about what CIPA actually requires, about the issues a library director must deal with when deciding to filter internet access, about how filtering can be accomplished with low cost, and about the results of a survey completed by Nebraska libraries that have installed a filter.
CIPA: Myths vs. Reality – Christa Burns, NLC, will clear up some of the misconceptions about CIPA and how it relates to E-rate.
Filtering Internet Content – Pam Soreide, Holdrege Area Public Library, & George Matzen, Webermeier Memorial Library. Participants in this session will leave with a sense of what factors should be considered in the decision whether or not to filter Internet content at public workstations. Discussion will include patron perceptions and management issues.

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Fear of Filtering: The Reality of Internet Content Management (Soreide DOC)

  1. 1. Internet Filtering In Libraries Pam Soreide Technology Planning Summer Camp 8/22-23/2011History of Internet Filtering in Libraries  Libraries started filtering Internet access in the late 90s under pressure from local community groups  With the passage of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2004, all libraries accepting federal funds from E-Rate, ESEA or LSTA for computers that access the Internet or funds used to pay for Internet access were required to adopt an Internet Safety Policy, hold at least one public meeting on the policy, and certify that they have adopted and implemented a Internet Safety Policy, which must include blocking or filtering software.  CIPA states that the software must protect against visual depictions described as obscene, child pornography, or any content harmful to minors in any way. It does not require filtering or blocking on text, though since most of the products were developed before CIPA passage, almost all do block on text, and unfortunately, do not do a very good job at blocking images. CIPA does not speak to any need to filter content delivered to laptops brought into the library by patrons or staff, but in practice, it has come to be seen as optional.  CIPA also states that libraries may disable filtering for adult patrons 17 years or older upon request, for purposes of lawful research.  Another act, NCIPA, specifies elements which must be present in the library’s Internet Safety Policy, which is also required.Why Filter?  In public libraries that filter, librarians talked about being responsive to community demands: o "Our patrons are happy that we have this type of filtering. As one said: We discourage indecent exposure. Why allow it on the screen in a public place? Our job is to give the public what it wants, not what it doesnt want." o "Politically it was the right move for our community, which is conservative. It makes us responsive to the requests/attitudes of our users."  School and public librarians who are against filters based their opinions on a belief in intellectual freedom and the inefficiency of filters. Those librarians who oppose filters but used them nonetheless talked about their desire to remain employed. Here are some of their remarks: o "Filtering tries to enforce morality externally. We should be teaching internalized morality." o "I do lots of research on books and curriculum areas for teachers. I am only 50 percent as effective with this insane censorship [caused by
  2. 2. filters]. If kids cannot be responsible now, when will we expect them to be responsible? When they retire?" o "Internet filtering lets parents and others think that the inappropriate sites are blocked. In reality, not all of them are--its impossible. Its mainly symbolic!" o "Intellectually I object to it; conversely, I like my job.“  “Filtered or Unfiltered” by Ann Curry, Ken Haycock, School Library Journal 1/1/2001What are the Options?  Client side filters o Software on each workstation. Can be customized, but only disabled by a person with the password  Content-limited ISPs o Primarily used to provide Internet access suitable for children, this option provides access to only a portion of the content of the Internet judged to be safe and appropriate for children  Server-side filters o Very popular for institutional settings such as schools or libraries. Filtering can be customized and different profiles used for children or adults  Search engine filters o Some search engines such as Google offer an option to turn on a safety filter to limit results. It does not preclude a user from typing in a direct url to a problematic site. Others, such as Yahoo! offer a child-oriented version of their product that searches only child-friendly sitesFiltering vs. Blocking  Filtering software denies access to a website based on its content  Blocking software denies access to a website url based on the offending site’s url  A weakness of blocking software is that each offending url has to be coded into the software and it may be hard to stay abreast of new sites coming online every day  A weakness of filtering software is that it bases its judgments of the presence of particular keywords. It is obvious that many useful resources may be blocked because of a reference to a particular term.  Another problematic aspect of filtering software is the visual nature of pornography. If offending keywords are also included, the site may be blocked, but if the keywords are in a different language (or the search is conducted in another language), it may not be.  Filtering software is still quite undeveloped in its coverage of race hatred, violence or recreational drug use
  3. 3. How does Filtering Work?  Two basic types, network-based and stand-alone.  Filtering by URL o Products that filter based on urls will use a search engine such as Google to run searches for trigger words (live sex chat room). o The list of results is then reduced by taking out those representing educational and government sites (those with .edu and .gov extensions). o Of the remaining sites, the top 100-500 are blacklisted, sometimes with spotchecks by humans and sometimes not. o When the filtering program is in use, each set of search results is scanned against the list before items are displayed.  Filtering by keyword o Products that filter based on content analyze web pages as they are requested by the searcher, looking for keywords and phrases, and sometimes other factors such as banner ads, number of links and number of images. An AI program then uses a substantive formula with a set of criteria to classify the pages as either allowed or blocked.  Filtering by File Type o A minority of products allow you to block particular file types, such as video files (.avi), audio (.mp3) or still images (.jpg). This is less than useful since many porn sites will embed their files in flash or pdf wrappers, thereby getting around the block, and it will block all .jpg images not just prurient ones.  Blocking What the User Sees o Using one or both of these approaches, companies build up lists of urls and/or keywords that are then blocked. Depending on the product, patrons will see messages about what was blocked and why. Some products filter out only the triggering content but letting the rest of the content display while others will go further and block the whole page. Another differentiation is that some will allow you to see other content, but hiding triggering content on the display page (such as ads) whereas others let you see the triggering content on the search results page, but will not allow you to click through.  One of the challenges is to accurately understand your products classification methodology, but they consider it a ferociously guarded trade secret and will not even give examples of the effect of their blocking algorithms on particular categories.  Libraries and others have conducted tests of different products, with the results summarized below. In broad terms, most researchers agree that content is overfiltered by about 15%, underfiltered by about 15% with images and foreign materials being the worst filtering only about 40% of the explicit materials.
  4. 4. Date Title Source Summarized Conclusions2008 Expert Report Dr. Paul Resnick (for North Central • 93.1% accuracy in Regional Library District) blocking websites • 48% accuracy in blocking images2007 Report on the Bennet Haselton (for the ACLU) • 88.1 % overall accuracy Accuracy on .com sites Rate of • 76.4% overall accuracy FortiGuard on .org site2006 Expert Report Philip B. Stark (for the DOJ) • 87.2%-98.6% accuracy blocking "sexually explicit materials" • 67.2%-87.1% accuracy allowing "nonsexually explicit materials”2006 Websense: Veritest (for Websense) • WebSense: 85% overall Filtering accuracy Effectiveness • SmartFilter: 68% overall Study accuracy • SurfControl: 74% overall accuracyPros  Fewer reported incidents of publicly viewed sites which make others in adjacent spaces uncomfortable or feel threatened  Fewer reported incidents of prohibited behaviors  Reduced risk of having minors accidentally encounter content that they may be ill-equipped to deal with  Using a filter places the library squarely within the expectations of the community for a safe, unthreatening, family-friendly public space  Can protect the library against suits by staff such as the one in Minneapolis, Minnesota brought by 12 library workers claiming that unwanted exposure to patrons viewing pornography constituted a “hostile work environment,” a position agreed with by the EEOC in 2001. Cost for settlement was $435K.  Filters with the ability to block against peer-to-peer file sharing can protect themselves against being found complicit in illegal behavior  Use of a filter arguably serves the same purpose as your collection development policy, only in the context of digital content  Especially in rural areas with small libraries and budgets to match, the discount on Internet access and telephone service may be worth going after.
  5. 5. Cons  As articulated by the ALA, libraries are fierce defenders of the right of all citizens to information of their choice without censorship. Use of filtering or blocking software runs counter to the core values – intellectual freedom and equity of access – promoted by libraries.  Filtering products need to be actively understood and managed so as not to over-filter content or assume that filtering is 100% accurate and reliable. Additionally, it is widely agreed that it is difficult if not impossible to adequately filter for images as required by the law.  Underblocking can be an issue, either due to the rapid availability of new content or if licenses are allowed to expire  Use of filtering software weakens the librarian’s role of selecting content appropriate to the community, forcing reliance on the service provider who may make arbitrary decisions on keywords to filter without consideration of context.  Even though patrons over 17 may request unfiltered access, there is no consideration given to their possible reluctance to do so, fearing the disapproval of the librarian or requirement to cite reasons for that access.  While a content filter should never be considered a replacement for anti-virus software, most of them do keep lists of sites known to install malware and allow you to filter them.  The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that filtering is more akin to a selection decision than it is a de-selection decision which requires more scrutiny. Justice Souter dissented, arguing that CIPA was burdensome to the intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights of adults, and amounted to censorship in selection.  Blocking software is by nature reactive and therefore perpetually out of date. Filtering software is insufficiently developed to be able to distinguish between offensive content and sensitive content, or between mature and obscene.  The equitable access question is illustrated by the need for local configuration of filtering software. If one library filters only pornography and another additionally filters on nudism or violence or weapons, there can be significant discrepancies in the content provided, thereby infringing on rights of intellectual freedom for those who only have access through the public library.  As an example of the sometimes heavy-handed effect of filters, I had to unblock a large number of domains in the process of researching this project.Perceptions  Many people are deeply suspicious of government tactics such as passage of CIPA, or may willfully misunderstand the intent  Use of filtering software in library environments may promote a false sense of security in some parents and be viewed as an opportunity to disengage from their children’s online experience, thereby abdicating their responsibility for supervision to library workers
  6. 6.  While we as librarians may know our limits, the public perceives libraries as a “safe” place that they can send their children with confidence. We do not want to betray that trust, either with the parents or with the children.Personal Experience  Coming into a public library setting from a corporate environment, I had no experience with filtering or blocking software.  Cyberpatrol had been loaded on the four public access workstations. I found it difficult to manage properly, even with that small number of installations. Staff workstations were not controlled.  When I started working with a local ESU for tech support, they suggested using a filter that also functions as a firewall called Clark Connect (now known as ClearOS). This is a Linux-based server solution used in the school districts.  Lessons learned: even though this application is running in the background and might seem to be able to run on an extra desktop, it is actually a critical application and needs reliable hardware. Unless you can disarm it before taking the computer offline, there will be NO Internet access in the building until you bring it back online again. A second workstation holding the software that you can apply the backup profile to in case of need is a wise precaution. Also, make sure that whatever system you are using is registered after each renewal.  If you use a server-based filter, be sure to back up your profile.  It is quite flexible, allowing you to set the level of enforcement of filtering as well as the specific content you want to filter and/or whitelist. Managing those lists is easy to do.  The server solution allows filtering of all workstations in the facility or within reach of its signal, including laptops brought into the library.ConclusionWhile I have had many requests to whitelist particular domains, I have never had arequest to make an unfiltered workstation available. People understand that the publicaccess computers are locked down in a number of ways, but we do our best to be surethat patrons go away with the information they need.Resourceswww.holdregelibrary/delicious_links.htmlSee internet.safety
  7. 7. Contact:Pam SoreideLibrary DirectorHoldrege Area Public Library604 East AvenueHoldrege, NE 68949308-995-6556director@holdregelibrary.orgwww.holdregelibrary.org