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Subcommittee Reviews the Children’s Internet Protection Act

With the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) poised to implement the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CHIPA), the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing on April 4 to review some of the controversies surrounding the Act.

CHIPA requires schools and libraries that receive E-Rate funds for Internet service to use technology to filter out content that is inappropriate for children. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Library Association have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of requiring such filters to be used in public libraries.

Expressing support for the goal of CHIPA, Subcommittee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) said that “taxpayers should not be required to fund obscenity or child pornography or any means of accessing it,” adding that “libraries should be responsible for protecting children from this material…which is harmful to them.”

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) expressed “serious concerns about the government telling schools and libraries what to do.” She said that, in her view, CHIPA “raises serious constitutional issues,” and that “parents and librarians should be able to make their own choices.”

Arguing against the Act, Marvin Johnson of the ACLU stated that “the Internet blocking measure contains significant constitutional pitfalls and that these shortcomings would sap intellectual freedom from the nation’s libraries if the law would go into effect.” Mr. Johnson also told the subcommittee that “blocking technology required by Congress does not work.” He cited a recent Consumer Reports test that found that “blocking software often fails to recognize obscene material about 20 percent of the time and will interpret constitutionally protected material as objectionable as much as 63 percent of the time.”

Carolyn Caywood of the American Library Association also opposed CHIPA. She stressed that “responsibility for making decisions about Internet usage policies and procedures should always be made at the local level within the bounds of the Constitution.”

Supporting the constitutionality of CHIPA, Bruce Taylor of the National Law Center for Children and Families said that the Act “does not require subsidized schools or libraries to restrict or filter any materials other than what they think is obscene.” He argued that, “without CHIPA, many libraries and schools would continue to provide unrestricted access by minors to Internet terminals that regularly expose them to illegal and unprotected pornography.”

Susan Getgood of SurfControl told the subcommittee that “thousands of educators nationwide give Internet filtering software high marks for effectively safeguarding children as they surf the Web.” She also told the panel that her software company “opposed mandatory filtering and believes the unfunded nature of the mandate is burdensome to schools.” She feels “a law is unnecessary” because schools and libraries are already “making their own choices” to use filtering to protect children from harmful material.

The FCC is scheduled to implement CHIPA on April 20.

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