April 09, 2004

Lawfully Surfing the Net - Mary Minow Library Censorware Paper

Major censorware / CIPA buzz today:

Lawfully Surfing the Net: Disabling Public Library Internet Filters to Avoid More Lawsuits in the United States

(thanks Gary Price / Resourceshelf):

Great summaries of various points in the decision, nice charts, excellent coverage. Highly recommended in general for background. I love the quote from Lori Ayre about censorware: "To say filters "overblock" makes it sound like filters simply make mistakes here and there, when in fact it is a design issue."

Personal note: I was disappointed to see none of my ideas about privacy, anonymity or Google, image searching, and censorware circumvention, rated a mention. Not that it's expected. But I was still disappointed. Tell me again how far my voice reaches.

As to the conclusions of the paper, well, I'm not a lawyer, I've quit, so weigh that in what follows. The key element I see is in this passage:

The language "or other lawful purpose" gives libraries that choose liberal disabling policies latitude even without the Court’s reliance on the Solicitor General’s representation that CIPA requires rather than allows libraries to disable filters upon request, without explaining why.

The statement "I feel like lawfully surfing the Net" expresses a lawful purpose. Even as written, the statute permits a library to disable a filter for the patron who states a lawful purpose.

I just don't get it. Years ago, during the ill-advised campaign of touting censorware, I kept saying the reasoning made no logical sense (and got thoroughly smeared by Mike Godwin over it all, sigh). It's not quite history repeating itself nowadays - then I felt possibility, whereas now I just feel futility. Anyway, I cannot grasp that justices such as Rehnquist and Scalia and Thomas meant something which so readily reduces the law to meaninglessness for adults. IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.

Right after the above, Minow goes on to explain that "Viewing ... Child Pornography is an Unlawful Purpose". Despite the temptation to take that as belaboring the obvious, there's a very good reason to note it, as "research" is no defense to child pornography possession. But the problem seems so evident. Who is ever going to say "I feel like unlawfully surfing the Net. I'm looking for child pornography, the younger the better."?

*Shrug*. Not My Problem ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on April 09, 2004 09:57 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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Who is ever going to say "I feel like unlawfully surfing the Net. I'm looking for child pornography, the younger the better."?

People this stupid exist in numbers large enough to keep criminal-defense lawyers in business.

That aside, the paper just seems to be saying that libraries do not have the option of unblocking filters; they're required to do so if a patron asks. And they don't need to investigate the reasons or ask the patron what he wants to look at that's so risqué. "It's lawful and none of your business" is more than sufficient.

There doesn't seem to be any requirement that libraries check to see if adult patrons are, in fact, removing the filter for a lawful purpose.

Posted by: mythago at April 9, 2004 11:21 PM

While you're right that it made no sense for SCOTUS to reduce CIPA to meaninglessness (for those over 16), I'm relieved to find that Mary Minow read the decision the same way I did--that's what SCOTUS did, sensibly or not.
("Relieved" because Mary does know both libraries and law, having both degrees, and has spent a LOT of time working on these issues--making her opinion, say, about sideways-8 times more meaningful on the subject than mine is.)

Posted by: Walt Crawford at April 12, 2004 01:42 PM