June 23, 2003

Filtering Internet Access at Public Libraries

Almost lost in the crush of commentary on the Michigan affirmative action decision is this example of a place where, based on the laws they are writing and the decisions they are making, congress critters and supreme court justices should not be treading.This is as good a reason as any for libraries to just say no to federal dollars:

The aid comes through two separate programs. The first, the "E-rate" program administered by the Federal Communications Commission, requires Internet service providers to give discounts to libraries; this was worth $58.5 million to libraries in the year ending June 2002. The second provides direct federal grants to link libraries to the Internet; the grants totaled more than $149 million in fiscal 2002.
While $200 million is more then spare change it works out to less then $23,000/per public library (there are 9074 of them). If the Bushies are around long enough they will likely make this moot when they scrap these programs.

Eugene Volokh thinks that this decision may not be the last we hear of this issue and Peter Lewis has just about the right perspective:
Another issue: Whose filter will the libraries use? The software has to be compiled by someone whose value judgments are trustworthy.

Say, here's an interesting idea: How about filters endorsed by Roman Catholic priests? Or, maybe librarians in Kansas will choose filters created by the same school advisory board that required science teachers to give as much class time to Christian creationism as to Darwinism. How about a filter created by the government itself, which cuts off funding to agencies that seek to disseminate information about birth control, and spends $8,000 to drape the naked right boob of the statue Spirit of Justice in the Justice Department? (Clarification: I'm referring to the boob on the statue, left.)

Posted by Steve on June 23, 2003
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