Freedom of speech is an issue that always comes up when our government or organizations talk about censoring the internet. Many people believe that by censoring what they can see or publish on the internet it is a violation of their first amendment rights. The first amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances" By passing legislature attempting to censor the internet it restricts a persons freedom of speech. Many military people have died protecting this precious freedom. Just because some companies might produce materials that some people feel is offensive, nothing gives the government the right to infringe upon the publishers first amendment rights and censor it from people who would enjoy it. When the government found it couldn’t censor the information in a person’s home, they then moved to censor information in public buildings.
A hot topic of debate is whether schools and libraries should be required to censor internet content on computers used in those facilities. Recently, Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which made it mandatory for schools and libraries to place a device on computers to filter the internet. If a library doesn’t comply with this law they will lose their federal funding. Libraries now have to choose between potentially violating a person’s first amendment rights or lose a large part of their funding. Many groups are opposed to libraries being forced to filter the internet because they believe there are too many problems with filtering devices. One problem is filtering devices are unreliable and have a tendency to block too many or too few sites. The filtering software is proprietary and the companies that make it do not tell you what sites are blocked. Studies have shown that the software blocks many sites that should not be blocked. By blocking too many sites, a school faces the risk that they might potentially block valuable information that a student might need. Filtering software is just too unrefined and there are no checks and balances on content to be filtered.
Probably the biggest issue to a library filtering internet content is who determines what sites are filtered. Software filters work by blocking sites by domain name and also keywords. Unfortunately, these keywords filters are what cause the majority of the problems. If a person were surfing a medical website, some software will block sites containing words such as breast or penis. The information on this site could provide lifesaving knowledge to a person, but it is blocked because the company setting up the filter believes any site that contains the word “breast” must be pornography. The majority of filtering software does not allow the removal of keywords and won’t even let you view what keywords are blocked. For some people the library is the only way they can access the internet because they can not afford either a computer or the monthly internet access fees. Until filtering software matures and can be tuned to allow people access to information they need, libraries should not be required to run the content filters.
The Freedom Forum. The First Amendment. http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=3924
Iowa City Press. Schools are correct on Web filters. http://www.press-citizen.com/opinion/pceditorials/staffedit051002.htm