Libraries, Schools Pressured to Block Porn or Lose Funding

Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As of July 1, public libraries and schools are officially under the scrutiny of the U.S. Government and could risk losing federal funding if they don't take swift action against pornography on publicly accessed computers.

Under the terms of the Children's Internet Protection Act, public libraries and schools are required to prevent children from being exposed to adult material online. If they don't comply with CIPA, the price is costly for institutions already running on tight budgets with limited staff.

CIPA was introduced in the Senate in 1999 and states that in order for an elementary school, secondary school, or library to be eligible to receive universal service assistance, they must provide certification of a selected technology for computers with Internet access to filter material deemed harmful to minors.

The federal funding at issue under CIPA is E-Rate technology discounts, which in many cases compensate for as much as 80 percent of school and library technology budgets. Many critics of CIPA say that the financial strains of complying with the new law in some cases outweigh the benefits of E-Rate discounts altogether.

Similar to protests against the 1998 Children's Online Protection Act, which failed to get approval from the Supreme Court last week because of First Amendment issues, CIPA is also raising the ire of many librarians and school administrators who feel that CIPA tramples on those same rights.

Additionally, critics of the newly instated federal law are saying that complying with CIPA is too fiscally challenging because of the cost of purchasing filtering systems and employing the IT staff to administer and maintain those programs. School administrators and others are also wary of the unreliability of some porn filtering systems, calling them an "imperfect tool."

According to a survey, 59 percent of 200 schools claim to have difficulty keeping students away from explicit adult content online.

The American Library Association is currently challenging the new law after managing to prevent it from becoming official since 2000 when it was first approved by congress.

In 2001, the ALA and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that the law violated free speech provisions of the First Amendment. The following year, a federal district court in Philadelphia agreed and invalidated the law, after which the federal government took the case to the Supreme Court, which by a 6-3 vote last year overturned the lower court's ruling.