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Friday, April 07, 2006

CIPA revisited

I was rereading the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), and found some things that I either hadn't realized or had forgotten.

For those who don't know what CIPA is, it is federal legislation that requires schools and libraries who want to receive federal technology funding to:
  1. Develop an Internet safety policy,
  2. Hold a public meeting concerning the policy, and
  3. Implement a "technology measure."
These measures are to protect users from obscene material and child pornography, and further protect children from material harmful to minors.
CIPA is a big E-Rate issue, because organizations that are not CIPA-compliant can only get funded for telecommunications services. This is not an issue for most public schools; there are very few schools that don't filter. I was surprised to learn, however, that librarians are valiant champions of our civil liberties, and objected to the restriction. In fact, they fought CIPA all the way to the Supreme Court and lost. As a result, most libraries choose not to receive E-Rate funding.
So what surprising things did I find?
  1. Only visual depictions are covered. Any text is allowed. I find this particularly interesting since most filters can examine the text of a page, but not the pictures. (The exception I know of is "The Bair," which has poweful computers scan pictures and determine if they contain naughty bits.) Of course, filters rely largely on blacklists, which should stop most inappropriate sites.
  2. Only sexual content is forbidden. "Harmful to minors" means "prurient" and "patently offensive" depictions of a "sexual act" or "a lewd exhibition of the genitals." Pictures that are extremely violent or otherwise inappropriate for minors are not covered by CIPA.

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