Not Having Filters on L.A. Library Computers May Violate CIPA

LOS ANGELES—Yesterday, the L.A. City Council voted against installing internet filters on computers used by patrons in city libraries, but that decision may be in violation of a federal law passed in 2000 that requires the use of blocking technology by schools and libraries that receive specific federal funding. Los Angeles city libraries have been receiving such funding since 2006, AVN has learned.

The vote not to install filters was made in response to a motion filed Jan. 21 by councilman Ed Reyes that was prompted by an incident at the Chinatown branch of the public library last year, during which porn being watched by an adult on the library computer was able to be seen by people waiting in line at the checkout desk, including children.

During a city council meeting yesterday, City Librarian Martin Gomez rejected the idea of installing filtering software on library computers. "I do think there's a potential to begin a path to being on a slippery slope," he said. "We think it's the responsibility of the parent to monitor the children's use of the library, including the collection, as well as their computer use."

Instead, said Cheryl Collins, acting director of branch services, the city will replace old privacy screens and conduct an annual audit of branches to ensure that computers are properly equipped and situated so that no one other than the viewer can see the screens. Collins’ report was in response to a separate request by Reyes for the city to survey the city’s libraries branches and assess the state of computer screens.

"We've completed that survey," said Collins. "We have five branch libraries that we're in the process of actually moving some of the computers to make sure they're not visible to people who don't want to look at what's on the screen.

"We have thousands of computers in our library system,” she added, “and I would say that the [numbers] of complaints we actually get are maybe a dozen or two.”

The actions being taken by the city may not be enough to satisfy the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). According to information on the Federal Communications Commission website, “CIPA imposes certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding for Internet access or internal connections from the E-rate program—a program that makes certain communications technology more affordable for eligible schools and libraries. In 2001, the FCC issued rules implementing CIPA.” In July 2003, the FCC updated the regulations pertaining to the CIPA for libraries

The FCC CIPA rules include:

* Schools and libraries subject to CIPA may not receive the discounts offered by the E-rate program unless they certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures. The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene, (b) child pornography, or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors). Before adopting this Internet safety policy, schools and libraries must provide reasonable notice and hold at least one public hearing or meeting to address the proposal.

* Schools subject to CIPA are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online activities of minors.

* Schools and libraries subject to CIPA are required to adopt and implement an Internet safety policy addressing: (a) access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; (b) the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications; (c) unauthorized access, including so-called “hacking,” and other unlawful activities by minors online; (d) unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors; and (e) measures restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them.

Schools and libraries are required to certify that they have their safety policies and technology in place before receiving E-rate funding.

* CIPA does not affect E-rate funding for schools and libraries receiving discounts only for telecommunications, such as telephone service.

* An authorized person may disable the blocking or filtering measure during any use by an adult to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purposes.

* CIPA does not require the tracking of Internet use by minors or adults.

AVN contacted the agency in charge of administering the E-rate funding program for the FCC, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), and spoke with the director of external relations, who pointed the way to public records on the agency website that indicate the Los Angeles Public Library System has been allocated a tad over $3 million in E-rate funds since 2006. The USAC records do not indicate if allocated funds are not used.

For the funding year 2010, ending in the summer, according to USAC records $1,215,107.47 in funding was approved for use by Los Angeles libraries, the highest amount provided to the city since the program began in 2001. The records also state that the city received a 90 percent discount rate.

For the 2009 funding year, the city received $745,931.52 in funding commitments, at an 80 percent discount rate. For 2008, the amount was $697,495.63 (90 percent discount); for 2007, it was $324,676.95 (90 percent discount); and for 2006, the last year the city requested E-rate funding, one grant of $87,177.06 was committed (90 percent discount).

CIPA allows a period of time for entities filing for funding to become compliant with the law’s requirements, which include installing blocking technology, instituting an internet safety policy and conducting a public notice and hearing, but the leniency only lasts for two years. By year three, according to the law, “If the school or library ‘applies’ for support for internet access or internal connections in the third funding year, it must be in compliance with CIPA. The school or library must be in compliance with CIPA for any funding year thereafter.”

The Los Angeles Public Library System is in its fifth year of CIPA-authorized funding, according to public documents.

In a call by AVN to the Los Angeles city attorney's office, a sppkesperson in the media department said the city attorney has advised the city library system that applicable laws allow it to place filters on library computers, but did not inform the  that it was required to do so. The spokesperson said that it was a policy decision by the city library and the city council whether to put them on, and that the repurcussions from that decision would fall to them.

A call to the Los Angeles Public Library public relations department was not returned by post time.