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Try helping your child do research on the Internet when the local school system has a filter. A librarian, running the homework help program at a Connecticut high school, tried to help a student with a report on suffragist Susan B. Anthony. Most sites were blocked by a filter because they contained the word “sex,” as in female. At another academic institution, a professor was unable to do research on breast cancer because of that scary word “breast.” Thanks for this “technological advance” goes to Congress and former President Clinton. They gave us the so-called Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA). “CIPA is not about protecting our children; it is about diminishing our rights,” says Karen Schneider of the American Library Association. “We do not scour book bags on entry to seize books we would not have purchased or do not find appropriate, nor do we patrol library tables peering over patrons’ shoulders to see if what they read meets some local standard.” Librarians are champions of books. This law makes them cops. As Schneider put it, librarians mean to ensure that children grow up in a democratic society with the same Bill of Rights that we now enjoy. The law gets worse, giving librarians an offer that is almost impossible to refuse in the context of tight local budgets. To comply with CIPA, libraries must install filtering software on any computer that children might use to access the Internet. They must provide proof that they’ve done so, and they must hold public hearings on the issue to inform their patrons. Librarians can only disable the filters for adults — maybe. First, the adults must substantiate that they want to use the Internet for “legitimate” research, whatever that is. So much for the end of Big Government. Local communities lose the right to decide Internet policies for their own libraries. Nothing was broken here, but that didn’t stop the government from putting in the fix. The price for failing to comply with CIPA: Local libraries would lose the USF (or E-rate) discounts on telecommunications. In some states, nearly a third of the population has no other access for the Internet than the local library. Rather than protecting patrons, this law widens the gap between the haves and have-nots. Further, librarians have no way of knowing precisely what the filter blocks. Filtering companies take extreme precautions to protect proprietary information such as stoplists, the databases that determine what library patrons cannot see. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a court challenge to CIPA. May it be heard quickly to undo the damage that already has been done. State and national library associations are getting the word out. Library patrons, who have the most to lose, might let their representatives know how they feel about reading and researching in the company of Big Brother.

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