Internet filters will stay despite controversy

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The London Public Library will continue to filter Internet content after the LPL Board voted 5-4 in favour of an extension of its filtering pilot project.

“The filtering software will help mitigate the risk of unintentional exposure to inappropriate materials,” Anne Becker, CEO of the LPL, said.

LPL uses NetSweeper to ban inappropriate websites from public workstations. Although these restrictions were always present on youth workstations, the LPL extended the filters to adult computers on a trial basis in June.

After completing the pilot project, LPL Board members decided to keep the filters in a vote on Nov. 21.

Don Butcher, executive director of the Canadian Library Association, said the CLA has a longstanding opposition to Internet filters.

“Filtering software just doesn’t work,” Butcher said.

Butcher cited both over-blocking and under-blocking as inherent problems in the software.

“Aside from censorship, I think the filters give a false sense of security,” he said. “There are always ways to circumvent the software.

“The best filtering is human filtering,” he added.

The Faculty of Information and Media Studies has taken an official stance against filters in public libraries.

Tom Carmichael, dean of FIMS, said faculty members welcomed free access to information and recommended other methods of protecting library patrons from inadvertently viewing offensive web content.

“An Internet filter is too blunt an instrument,” Carmichael said. “We should be empowering staff to deal with inappropriate behaviour in the library, not blocking out materials deemed offensive.”

Gina Barber, a City of London controller and LPL Board member, voted against the recommendation, noting Netsweeper is not accurate enough.

“You cannot filter graphic content,” she said. “Only when certain words appear frequently ... does the [software] signal a problem site.”

Ultimately, Barber said censorship decisions should be based on human judgment, not a computer program.

Josh Morgan, an LPL Board member and recruitment and development officer at Western, voted in favour of the software.

“It was a compromise motion,” he explained. “It protects people from unintentional exposure and allows for freedom of information.

“The motion also allows for staff to increase the number of unfiltered computers,” he added.Becker ensured there will be at least one unfiltered workstation in every library.

“We have six unfiltered computers at the Central Library ... and more will be added if necessary.”

Butcher said having only a few unfiltered “research” computers may have a chilling effect.

Barber agreed. “People looking for sensitive information might be embarrassed.”

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette