Sunday, May 12, 2013

‘Captive portals’ for filter-free Internet

Book cover: "Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide" by Jessamyn C. West
To filter or otherwise when allowing access to the Internet on library-owned computers?

During an assignment last semester for my Internet ethics class, I suggested ID barcode “flagging” that would require booking a juvenile whose parents had requested it only at those computers with filtered access to the Internet.

Libraries that accept federal funding are required to install filters under terms of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. In posting my class response, I was trying to envision a scenario in which only those children whose parents wanted restrictions placed on their access to the Internet would be affected by computer filtering.

Adult patrons and children whose parents saw no need for such restrictions could use full-access computers.

Jessamyn C. West suggests, in Librarians Without a Net (Libraries Unlimited, 2011), a similar and simpler concept for navigating library filters: the “captive portal” that Internet users click through before getting online:
“Larger libraries such as Boston Public Library use this method to allow patrons to choose whether they would like their Internet access filtered or unfiltered. When a patron first connects to the BPL’s wireless network, they arrive at a page that asks them if they want filtered access, which is available to anyone, or unfiltered access which is available to authenticated adult card holders. This sort of thing can be set up using freely available software and is worth building in to any library system that offers free wireless.”
The beauty of her solution, like that of account flagging, is that verified adult users would be spared the inconvenience of what I believe is an ineffective strategy.

From our course reading in Cyberethics: Morality and Law in Cyberspace by Richard Spinello (July 2010) we learned that filters often block legitimate information and manufacturers fail to disclose which sites their filters will block.

A company could impose a political ideology through the application of its filters, negating the ability to build library collections based on objective national standards. If libraries must have filters, then let their impact be limited to those children whose parents want restrictions placed on their Internet use.

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