Public library establishes new Internet safety policy

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

The Elizabethton Public Library board met on Tuesday to review a new Internet safety policy designed to comply with the Neighborhood Children's Internet Protection Act of 2001, or NCIPA. Even though a federal panel of judges overturned a law in May requiring public libraries to use Internet filters on their computers, the Children's Internet Protection Act still mandates libraries establish an Internet safety policy to protect minors.
   "The requirements of this Act were very difficult to address for me because the wording is very complicated and vague," Joyce White, library director, told the board. According to NCIPA, libraries who receive E-rate discounts (part of the Universal Service Fund for schools and libraries) must have an Internet safety policy that addresses the following NCIPA requirements:
   --Access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet and World Wide Web.
   --The safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications.
   --Unauthorized access, including hacking, and other unlawful activities by minors online.
   --Unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal identification information regarding minors.
   --Measures designed to restrict minors' access to materials harmful to minors.
   After presenting NCIPA rules to the board, White then presented them with the new Internet safety policy for the Elizabethton Public Library, which lists 10 purposes that make Internet use unacceptable.
   Among the reasons listed were sending, receiving, or displaying text or graphics which may reasonably be construed as obscene by community standards, and the viewing, downloading, transmitting, or printing of any material not constitutionally protected, including but not limited to child pornography.
   Also in the policy, parents or guardians, not the library or its staff, are responsible for the Internet information accessed by their children. Parents are also responsible for supervising their children's Internet sessions.
   White essentially said library staff and herself would be responsible for determining what constitutes obscene material viewed by library patrons. "Wasn't it the Supreme Court that said, 'I'll know it when I see it?'" White said. Board members said they have had instances when it was necessary to tell patrons they were accessing and/or using material that was inappropriate in a public library setting.
   White also stressed that using Internet computers for research purposes in the library is a privilege, not a right, and that, if necessary, the library can take away that privilege from patrons who violate the Internet safety policy. The board also determined the policy may need to be revised in the future since unexpected changes to the Internet or law may occur.
   Public libraries in Multnomah County, Ore., banded together this year with the American Libraries Association and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) to challenge the federal bill that required libraries to use Internet filters to protect minors. The libraries and other plaintiffs presented examples of legitimate Web sites that had been erroneously blocked by the four most popular filtering programs.
   As a result, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals located in Philadelphia, Pa., ruled that mandating filters in a public forum like a library subjects the restrictions to scrutiny under the First Amendment of the Constitution, written to protect the right to freedom of speech, religion, expression and press.
   After the law was overturned, Amitai Etzioni, a political scientist at George Washington University, said, "I'm saddened about it," since, in his opinion, it meant that children would receive no protection. "There are costs on both sides," he said.