Children's Internet Protection Act

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The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is one of a number of bills that the United States Congress has proposed in an attempt to limit children's exposure to pornography and explicit content online. Senator John McCain of Arizona introduced the bill that would become CIPA to the United States Senate in 1999. After various Representatives repeatedly introduced it to the United States House of Representatives, a final version cleared both houses and passed as part of an omnibus spending bill on December 15, 2000. President Bill Clinton signed it into law on December 21, 2000, and it was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States on June 23, 2003.


[edit] Earlier attempts to restrict indecency and CIPA

Both of Congress's earlier attempts at restricting indecent Internet content, the Communications Decency Act and the Child Online Protection Act, had met with successful Supreme Court challenges on First Amendment grounds. CIPA represented a change in strategy by Congress. While the federal government had no means of directly controlling local school and library boards, many schools and libraries utilized universal service fund discounts, derived from the universal service tax paid by telecommunications users, to purchase Internet access and computers. In passing CIPA, Congress required libraries and schools using these discounts (sometimes called "E-Rate discounts") to purchase and use a "technology protection measure" on every computer connected to the Internet. These conditions were also attached to a small subset of grants authorized through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). CIPA did not provide any additional funds for the purchase of the "technology protection measure."

[edit] What CIPA requires

CIPA requires schools and libraries using E-Rate discounts to operate "a technology protection measure with respect to any of its computers with Internet access that protects against access through such computers to visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors..." Such a technology protection measure must be employed "during any use of such computers by minors." The law also provides that the library "may disable the technology protection measure concerned, during use by an adult, to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purpose." Libraries that do not receive E-Rate discounts do not have any obligation to filter under CIPA. but it can be varied.

[edit] What CIPA does not require

A library that is required to filter can either disable the filter or unblock a site in response to an adult patron request to do so. Justice Rehnquist stated "Assuming that such erroneous blocking presents constitutional difficulties, any such concerns are dispelled by the ease with which patrons may have the filtering software disabled. When a patron encounters a blocked site, he need only ask a librarian to unblock it or (at least in the case of adults) disable the filter."[1] FCC Order 03-188[2] subsequently instructed libraries complying with CIPA to implement a procedure for unblocking the filter upon request by an adult.

[edit] Suit challenging CIPA's constitutionality

On January 17, 2001, the American Library Association voted to challenge CIPA, on the grounds that the law required libraries to unconstitutionally block access to constitutionally protected information on the Internet. It charged first that, because CIPA's enforcement mechanism involved removing federal funds intended to assist disadvantaged facilities, "CIPA runs counter to these federal efforts to close the digital divide for all Americans." Second, it argued that "no filtering software successfully differentiates constitutionally protected speech from illegal speech on the Internet."

Working with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ALA successfully challenged the law in the Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In a 200-page decision, the judges wrote that "in view of the severe limitations of filtering technology and the existence of these less restrictive alternatives [including making filtering software optional or supervising users directly], we conclude that it is not possible for a public library to comply with CIPA without blocking a very substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech, in violation of the First Amendment." 201 F.Supp.2d 401, 490 (2002).

Upon appeal to the Supreme Court, however, the law was upheld as constitutional as a condition imposed on institutions in exchange for government funding.[1] In upholding the law, the Supreme Court, adopting the interpretation urged by the U.S. Solicitor General at oral argument, made it clear that the constitutionality of CIPA would be upheld only "if, as the Government represents, a librarian will unblock filtered material or disable the Internet software filter without significant delay on an adult user's request."

As noted above, the text of the law authorized institutions to disable the filter on request "for bona fide research or other lawful purpose," implying that the adult would be expected to provide justification with his request. But under the interpretation urged by the Solicitor General and adopted by the Supreme Court, libraries would be required to adopt an Internet use policy providing for unblocking the Internet for adult users, without a requirement that the library inquire into the user's reasons for disabling the filter.

Libraries can still refuse to filter their Internet access if they are willing to forego federal E-Rate funds. Several library systems, including the Westchester Library System in New York and the Multnomah County Library System in Oregon, have chosen to give up federal funding to keep their computers unfiltered.

[edit] Post-CIPA legislation

An attempt to expand CIPA to include "social networking" web sites was considered by the U.S. Congress in 2006. See Deleting Online Predators Act.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b US v. American Library Association, 539 U.S. 194 (2003).
  2. ^ "FCC Order 03-188". 2003-07-23. Retrieved on 2008-01-31. 

[edit] External links

Text of the Children's Internet Protection Act

Legal History:

FCC Information and Regulations:

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