Why Recent Court Decisions Don’t Change the Rules on Filtering
Posted Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Blocking access to protected speech can lead to litigation and legal fees By Theresa Chmara
Libraries should continue to be wary of using internet filtering systems that block constitutionally protected material for adults or minors. CIPA only requires filters that block access to visual images of obscenity, child pornography, and, for minors, material deemed harmful to minors. If libraries use filters that block constitutionally protected material deemed harmful to minors and do not allow adults to disable filters, or fail to provide an effective unblocking system, those libraries may open the door to years of litigation and significant legal expenses.
Seth Finkelstein - NTIA censorware comment
Are there obstacles to or difficulties in obtaining lists of blocked or filtered
sites or the specific criteria used by technology companies to deny or permit
access to certain web sites? Explain.
To give a short answer: Yes.
To give a long answer:
Virtually every censorware company considers its blacklist to be proprietary
information, protected both by technical (encryption) and legal means. Calling
it "obstacles or difficulties" borders on humorous understatement.
Pakistan testing powerful Internet filtering software
September 18, 2013|11:30AM ET
In a nondescript, creeper-draped building in the capital of Islamabad, a small team of men is purging Pakistan's Internet. Shadowy government officials are blocking thousands of pages deemed undesirable, but they are not fast enough. So the government is now testing Canadian software that can block millions of sites a second.
Internet censorship helps shape the views of 180 million Pakistanis on militancy, democracy and religion. Online debates dissect attacks by U.S. drone aircraft, the uneasy alliance with the United States and prospects for peace with arch rival India. But activists say liberal voices are increasingly silenced while militants speak freely. They worry customized filters from the Canadian firm Netsweeper will only deepen that divide.
"Secular, progressive and liberal voices are being increasingly targeted," said Shahzad Ahmad, the founder of Bytes For All, which campaigns for Internet freedoms. "Anything can be banned without debate." An internet provider who declined to be identified said the number of banned pages doubled in the last five years, partly a reaction to cartoons or films offensive to Muslims.
Now the Pakistani government is ramping up its capacity for censorship. Citizen Lab, a research center at the University of Toronto, published a report in June showing that Pakistan was testing filtering software supplied by Netsweeper. Both the Pakistani government and Netsweeper have declined to comment.
In 2012, the government circulated a five-page document seeking filtering software, a move embraced by Pakistani Internet service providers who welcomed the assistance of an outside contractor to lighten the burden of censorship.
. . .
Officially, only sites that are blasphemous, pornographic or threaten national security are banned. But activists fear a "slippery slope" effect by which censorship could gradually creep into the political and social spheres with the help of high-grade software.
Pages banned in recent months include a Facebook group wanting to end the death penalty for blasphemy, a band whose song mocked the military, a site tracking sectarian murders, and a cleric who has spoken against sectarian violence, according to an official list seen by Reuters.
Activists allege that the government is not consistently applying their declared censorship principles, citing the fact that extremist websites are rarely blocked online. Hate speech denouncing religious minorities like Shi'ites, who make up about 20 percent of Pakistan's population, is freely available online. So are pages maintained by militant groups the Pakistani government has banned.
Filtering and the First Amendment
PostedTuesday, April 2, 2013 - 15:12
When is it okay to block speech online? By Deborah Caldwell-Stone
According to legal complaints, some libraries are denying users access to websites that discuss Wicca and Native American spirituality; blacklisting websites that affirm the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities while whitelisting sites that advocate against gay rights and promote “ex-gay” ministries; and refusing to unblock webpages that deal with youth tobacco use, art galleries, blogs, and firearms. School librarians, teachers, and even Department of Education officials are openly complaining that the overzealous blocking of online information in schools is impairing the educational process.
Why are we seeing more and more instances where public libraries and schools are actively engaged in censoring online information, despite the library profession’s commitment to intellectual freedom, First Amendment rights, and free and open access to information?
Often, it is because the institutions and individuals responsible for implementing these policies misunderstand or misinterpret CIPA and the Supreme Court decision upholding the law.
China: Filtering Software Challenges Computer Industry:
Technology Companies Should Resist Censorship Attempts
June 20, 2009
"The government's order to install censorship software represents a grave threat to freedom of expression in China," said Arvind Ganesan, Business and Human Rights Program director at Human Rights Watch. "The Green Dam technology highlights Beijing's ongoing efforts to intensify its chokehold on Chinese citizens' internet access and the need for computer software and hardware firms to resist complicity in those efforts."
Green Dam is ostensibly designed to filter out pornography and other "unhealthy information" from the internet, but reportedly is also programmed to censor content ranging from political information to websites catering to the needs of China's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Green Dam is not transparent and does not facilitate users choosing which sites or terms to block or allow.
November 15, 2005
In Syria, the authorities censor information and correspondence with a free hand under the terms of emergency legislation promulgated more than forty years ago. The government tampers with the very fabric of the Internet, restricting the use of the basic electronic protocols that allow people to send emails and construct Web sites.
U.S.: Put Pressure on Internet Companies to Uphold Freedom of Expression
Testimony before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus
February 2, 2006
. . . the Internet gets its liberating potential from two basic qualities – it provides free and instantaneous access to information and ideas, and it allows people to communicate anonymously. But as China is showing, these qualities can be taken away. And once you take away users’ anonymity and censor, for political ends, the content they can see, the Internet is no longer a liberating medium. In fact, it can become a tool of repression.
Therefore, it is not enough for Internet companies to argue that their mere presence in countries like China will lead to political openness. It is illogical for companies to say they are expanding the boundaries of freedom in China if they strip their product of the very qualities that make it a force for greater freedom. These companies must protect the integrity of the product they are providing, or that product will no longer be the Internet as we know it, and will no longer have the impact on society we all wish to see.
Open Net Initiative: Access Denied
Plaintiffs successfully argued that CDA and COPA would chill the provision and transmission of lawful Internet content in the United States. Faced with the impossible task of accurately identifying ‘‘indecent’’ material and preemptively blocking its diffusion, ISPs would have been prompted to filter arbitrarily and extensively in order to avoid the threat of criminal liability, while writers and publishers would feel compelled to self-censor.
Stymied at restricting the publication of explicit material, congressional leaders changed their focus to regulating what someone might hear, rather than what they say. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000 forced public schools and libraries to use Internet filtering technology as a condition of receiving federal E-Rate funding. A school or library seeking to receive or retain federal funds for Internet access must certify to the FCC that it has installed or will install technology that filters or blocks material deemed to be obscene, child pornography, or material ‘‘harmful to minors.’’16 The Supreme Court rejected First Amendment challenges to CIPA, holding that speakers had no right of access to libraries and that patrons could request unblocking.17 In response, some libraries and schools have rejected E-Rate funding,18 but most have felt financially compelled to install the filters.
In the aftermath of CDA, COPA, and CIPA, Internet filtering in the United States is carried out largely by private manufacturers. These companies compete for market share in a lucrative business area. Schools, businesses, parents, and other parties wishing to block access to certain content have a broad range of software packages available to them.19 While some programs filter heavily, permitting access only to a ‘‘white list’’ of preapproved sites (for example, those appropriate for young children), others generate blacklists of blocked sites through a combination of automated screenings of the Web, staff members who ‘‘rate’’ sites on appropriateness, and user complaints. Although CIPA mandates the presence of filtering technology in schools and libraries receiving subsidized Internet access, it effectively delegates blocking discretion to the developers and operators of that technology. The criteria ‘‘obscene,’’ ‘‘child pornography,’’ and ‘‘harmful to minors’’ are defined by CIPA and other existing legislation, but strict adherence to these rather vague legal definitions is beyond the capacity of filters and inherently subject to the normative and technological choices made during the software design process. Moreover, while CIPA permits the disabling of filters for adults and, in some instances, minors ‘‘for bona fide research or other lawful purposes,’’20 it entrusts school and library administrators with deactivating the filters, giving them considerable power over access to online content. Once FCC certification requirements have been met, it is these individuals who shoulder the burden of ensuring access to constitutionally protected material.21
Vietnam: Clinton Should Spotlight Internet Freedom
Press Vietnam to Tear Down Web Firewall; Release Imprisoned Bloggers
July 9, 2012
(New York) – United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should publicly press Vietnam to respect freedom of expression and Internet freedom, and release prominent Internet bloggers when she visits Hanoi on July 10, 2012.
Restrictions on Internet freedom have been a serious problem in Vietnam since May 2004, when the government began to firewall critical websites.
Turkey: End Overly Broad Website Blocking
European Court Rules Against Government in Google Sites Case
December 21, 2012
(Istanbul) – The Turkish government should promptly stop unlawfully blocking websites.
On December 18, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled, in the case of Ahmet Yıldırım v. Turkey, that blocking Google Sites in Turkey violated the right to freedom of expression. A Turkish court had ordered the complete blocking of Google Sites because of one person’s post. But the European Court found that Turkey’s legal framework was inadequate and did not prevent abuses and arbitrary application of blocking measures.
Dispatches: Twitter’s ‘Technical Glitch’ to Iranian Reform?
September 17, 2013
Regardless of whether the free access to Twitter and Facebook resulted from a technical error or internal squabbling, the short-lived “online party,” as one journalist dubbed it, shows the overwhelming desire and expectation of Iranians for freedom of information. For them, the glitch that needs to be “resolved” is not a few hours of open access to Twitter and Facebook, but the tight grip of censorship imposed by a government that fears its own people.
EU court says Internet filtering violates freedom of information
Published on Monday 28 November 2011
In a landmark decision on 24 November, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that generalized Internet filtering violates the fundamental rights of European citizens including the right to the free flow of information online.
Protection of copyright cannot be protected at the expense of the protection of other basic rights such freedom of information and privacy, the court said.
A year after YouTube blocked, users still denied access
Published on Tuesday 17 September 2013
It is a year to the day since the Pakistani authorities blocked access to the video-sharing platform YouTube on 17 September 2012 in response to the release of The Innocence of Muslims, a film considered blasphemous by many in the Muslim world.
Two days before Pakistan’s telecommunications minister is due to appear before the Lahore high court to explain the government’s decision, Reporters Without Borders and the Pakistani digital rights group Bytes for All (B4A) join in condemning this flagrant act of censorship and call on the government to lift the ban immediately.
What Schools Are Really Blocking When They Block Social MediaBy blocking social media schools are also blocking the opportunity:
1) to teach students about the inventive and powerful ways communities around the world are using social media
2) for students and teachers to experience the educational potential of social media together
3) for students to distribute their work with the larger world
4) for students to reimagine their creative and civic identities in the age of networked media
Friend or Foe? Schools Still Struggling With Social Media
In Pinellas County, Florida, teachers are not allowed to communicate with students through Facebook, Twitter or other private media. According to the policy, “such communication could cause the appearance of inappropriate association with students.”
Ditto the schools in the Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes in Louisiana, which recently approved new policies forbidding teachers from making any kind of electronic contact with students – unless they have express permission from a principal or other administrator. That includes not just Facebook, but also texts and emails.
“It creates the window, and sometimes it can be taken and twisted,” superintendent Phillip Martin told the Thibodaux Daily Comet. “An ounce of precaution is worth a pound of cure.”
That ounce of precaution can also lead to a ton of lost opportunities to engage students and facilitate 21st Century learning, according to Michelle Luhtala, a school librarian at New Canaan High School in Connecticut. A passionate advocate for free-range media, Luhtala believes educators should be allowed to use social media proactively with their students – and that includes professional interactions on Facebook.
“If it’s ok for teachers to work with students face-to-face throughout the day,” she asks, “then why do you need strict policies and regulations that suggest teachers are unqualified to interact with them online? It really makes no sense.”
Furthermore, Luhtala says, the time has come for school districts to stop vilifying social media. Doing so, she argues, gives students license to act inappropriately online because it’s expected.
“Taking the initiative and showing students how to use Twitter and Facebook responsibly debunks the myth and encourages appropriate use,” Luhtala explains.
For the past several years, I've had the opportunity to engage with--and reflect on--libraries in educational environments.
In analog libraries, we needed to use the encyclopedias and other reference books for background; the indexes and periodical shelves for magazine or journal content; and the card catalog and book stacks for book content. The seating available in the library was largely needed by people who were using everything except the circulating books, which they could check out; everything else had to be used in the physical library space.
In the 21st Century school or college library, this has largely changed. Everything except the physical book stacks are now online—and not only are ebooks finally starting to show signs of taking off (for instance, libraries are subscribing to “rental” services that allow patrons to check out an e-book for a certain amount of time for a small fee that is drawn from a deposit account), but
perhaps even more importantly, students, teachers and faculty are finding ever-creative ways to do teaching and learning without books altogether.
Where does this leave the contemporary library in a learning institution? Some have sought
new life as “learning commons,” blending computer and multimedia “maker spaces” with traditional tutoring and other support services. Some have renovated, creating small group-study rooms for increasingly important small-group purposes and sectioning off comfortable quiet-study spaces for the population of students who can’t “tune out” noise while they read, study or do homework. Circulating books and interlibrary loan are still important—but those only require a quick 5-minute visit.
What is the role for librarians in this situation? If we have for-credit courses, we have the ability to create curricula and assignments. If we can convince faculty to work with us, we can create great collaborations that will last as long as those teachers we’ve established relationships with are on staff; when they leave, we start from scratch again. If we are tech-savvy and work with amenable IT staff, we can find exciting ways to work with technology—until they leave . . . and we start from scratch again. In this context, accomplishments are relationship-dependent.
Arguably, 21st Century librarians working in education should be prepared to continually build and rebuild relationships with both teachers and tech staff to find ever-new and creative ways to help
support information and digital fluency. However, it could also be argued that it would be preferable to establish clear and different kinds of educational librarian positions: for teacher-librarians, concrete teaching curricula with specific, graded courses that are fully integrated with the rest of the curriculum, recognizing information and digital literacies as their own disciplines, and not dependent upon other teachers for legitimacy; for technology-librarians, job descriptions
that outline their specific roles within (not separate from) departments housing also housing IT personnel; and administrative librarians, whose primary role is management and assessment of services, content, and physical spaces. A librarian with multiple responsibilities would ideally have a job description that clearly establishes his/her role in each of these categories.
Communications are likewise essential: librarians need the ability to connect with students and instructors digitally. The ability to reach out and connect with constituents is vital if today's educational library is to retain usefulness and vitality.
Such are some of our challenges--and our opportunities.
Thanks in large part to Maine's Tom Abbott, the University of Maine at Augusta has a unique role in both distance and library education. According to his online resume, Thomas E. Abbott, Ph.D., has been: "Project Administrator and primary author of a new Associate Degree Program in Library and Information Services, first UMA degree program designed specifically for web-based delivery worldwide (for library support staff). Coordinated satellite delivery of Masters in Library and Information Science degree from University of South Carolina to Maine. Originally responsible for developing the concept, program and staff who manage statewide Off-Campus Library Services for students and faculty in the Educational Network of Maine – Now part of UMS."
Tom shares that the undergraduate offerings in library science at UMA were consumer-driven, having had their origins in requests by the library community for continuing education and formal certification. A non-accredited MLS program at the University of Maine had shut down in the 1980s, and while the MLS was technically the minimum requirement for a position as a librarian, the reality in Maine was a great many people working in various kinds of libraries needing some kind of preparation or certification with "classifications all over the map." Tom and his associates subsequently proceeded through the bureaucratically strenuous process of establishing the program and its curriculum at UMA. Because the program was founded on the distance education model, it provided support for the emergence of a strong role for UMA as an online program service center for the University. Following a natural evolution from a correspondence course via tapes and early email to ITV and Blackboard, the undergraduate programs in library science at UMA now serve more than 100 students enrolled from 25 states and internationally, graduating about 10 students per year. Beloved Maine library leader Walt Taranko was another key collaborator of Tom's, working to create opportunities for a distance MLIS for Mainers through the University of South Carolina.
Keynote speaker John Szabo--new director of public libraries in Los Angeles--spoke on new and familiar themes. His review of new media and "maker spaces" in libraries puts Quimby Library - Unity College in a good light with our new Media/GIS and Library Lab rooms, although our users of these spaces are only our academic people (Quimby provides limited, mostly pro bono services to members of several tiny local communities). He mentioned various ways in which public libraries may bridge social and literacy services, and talked about the challenges of training staff in new digital and other literacies, mentioning familiar challenges in terms of continually trying to keep up with new content formats and services and thereby risking being spread too thin. He has a unique new challenge: kids who can't get to the library because of gang territorial boundaries. Szabo confirmed that he, too, finds himself at the exploratory stage of ebook and ereader implementation.
One of a panel, longtime Maine librarian/entrepeneur John Clark (who has retired to new jobs at least three times that I can think of) asserted that the future is open source, audiocassettes are dead, but VHS is still alive (even if we're not buying them these days). He's a big proponent of selling unneeded books on Amazon Marketplace (a revenue-generator if you've time and a flexible accounting structure). He also champions library as space for making needed social contacts (especially for the elderly) and the importance of supporting good young adult services (including computers). It was interesting to hear that the Bangor Public Schools have joined the Evergreen open-source consortium for which the ever-resourceful and creative Mr. Clark can no doubt take much credit.
Afternoon session on evolving library spaces: Katherine Blackburn of Shepley Bulfinch talked about helping libraries to think about how to integrate technology into spaces that weren't originally designed for it. "Fusion libraries": combining diverse uses into one space (e.g. libraries sharing with chapels or residence halls). Examples: Flexibility at Woodruff Library Atlanta University Center--a zoned space that converts to a student center after hours; a bike corral in Austin's New Central Library; "the borderless library" at Marquette University Library, with integration between the library and the faculty workspaces; Brody Learning Commons at Johns Hopkins University, with one large shared screen in group workspaces; and an interactive screen; writable wall surfaces at Duke University; multi-use spaces with furniture that's light enough to move around; and also at Johns Hopkins a recognition that quiet reading rooms are valued in their learning commons; and, finally, what a difference improved lighting can make.
Calvin Wright of Spatial Discipline talked about Hunter College in New York City, which was severely space-limited, land-locked, and financially challenged, so effective space management is especially vital, and provides opportunity to enhance the institution's sense of community, integrate more academic functions into library spaces, address 1980s inefficiencies, and develop solutions effective for the college's unusual architecture, with its various walkways between buildings and multi-level entrances. Off-site storage and a learning commons with a combined reference/IT/tutoring desk are part of the plan, as are library IT service spaces for help with video editing and new media.