HSLI Newsletter

Serving Illinois Health Information Professionals

Action Needed on Filtering Legislation (Illinois SB2784)

Please note this important legislative alert from the Illinois Library Association. The alert concerns Senate Bill 2784, sponsored by Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul (Democrat, 13th District-Chicago), which creates the “Internet Screening in Public Libraries Act”. A direct link to the legislation, which was introduced on January 30, is here:


The main objection to this legislation, as the e-mail below notes, is that the legislation overrides local control of libraries and sets a “one-size-fits-all” standard regarding what kind of content a library may allow its users to access. Related to the local-control issue is that the filter settings often cannot be changed to adjust to the needs of a particular library (for instance, one that has large numbers of children using computers). The text of the legislation specifies that material that “taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value to minors” may be blocked. This is open to such wide interpretation that it could be construed to mean virtually anything of entertainment (or even educational) value to minors, regardless of how “unwholesome” the material might be.

Another key issue is that requiring libraries to use filters places a financial burden upon libraries, especially ones in less-affluent communities, which have a smaller tax base. (On top of that, patrons at libraries in less-affluent areas rely on the public library as their primary source of Internet access, meaning that those patrons would likely be unable to access blocked material elsewhere.) At a time when state and national sources of funding for libraries have been dwindling, imposing these new costs seems especially onerous and unfair. Additionally, it is impossible to measure how effective filters are in preventing those who (for whatever reason) shouldn’t be viewing particular content, from doing so.

This is the latest from the American Library Association on the issue:


The ALA reiterates many of the same points, especially regarding the cumbersomeness of the “one-size-fits-all” approach, and the page includes overviews of some studies tracking the actual effectiveness of using filters in the past. Even though some of the papers and statements are from five or more years ago, and the technology has advanced since then, the basic argument against the use of filtering, and censorship more generally, remain the same: filtering or screening of materials limits access to knowledge, rather than promoting it, which is what any library’s main mission should be.

If you are participating in the upcoming legislative meet-ups (I will send out a reminder about those shortly), that might be an excellent opportunity to raise this legislation with your Illinois representatives and senator, especially since the legislation was introduced very recently, and there is still time to change the minds of those legislators who support it. Keep in mind, however, that filtering legislation has been proposed repeatedly, so there are clearly some legislators who feel very strongly about the issue, or are under pressure from particular constituents, and so might be more difficult to persuade.

Here is the text of the alert itself.

Filtering Legislation Proposed AgainEighteenth Attempt to Mandate Statewide Filters
On Thursday, 30 January 2014, Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13, Chicago), introduced Senate Bill (SB) 2784. The bill creates the Internet Screening in Public Libraries Act. Provides that each public library must have a technology protection measure to prevent the display on a public computer of any visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors. Allows a public library to disable the technology protection measure for an adult engaged in legitimate research or some other lawful purpose. Requires the State Librarian to adopt rules to implement and administer the Act. Amends the State Finance Act to create the Internet Screening in Public Libraries Fund. Provides that fines under the Act are to be deposited into the Fund. Requires the State Librarian to use amounts in the Fund, subject to appropriation, to implement and administer the Act. Amends the State Mandates Act to require implementation without reimbursement.We are asking the Illinois library community to immediately contact your elected official in the Illinois General Assembly.Talking Points
ILA supports local control. Local officials — library trustees, librarians, and other professional library staff — are the most qualified to decide how Internet access should be provided to their patrons. Senate Bill 2784 overrules all local decisions and imposes a “one size fits all” approach. It is especially important that school and public libraries that have installed filters call. While this bill would not impact your operations, please state your opposition to the bill and stress the importance of local control!

Filters Hurt Libraries

This legislation is an unfunded mandate that overrides local control.

Filters Don’t Work

Study after study have demonstrated that filters consistently block important information on science, health, political, and social issues and regularly allow objectionable material to get through. This creates new liability for libraries.

Filters are Expensive

Paying for filters diverts scarce resources from limited technology budgets — money that could go to buying more computers, and paying for more reliable and faster Internet access.

Filters are Inflexible

Filters don’t know if the person using the computer is 5, 21, or 65. This “one size fits all” approach treats adults, even senior citizens, like elementary school children. The user doesn’t even know what they are being prevented from accessing. We can’t expect patrons to ask to unblock computers when they don’t know what that particular filter has blocked.

Filters are Biased

Private companies and groups with commercial, political, or religious agendas design filters to block what THEY find objectionable, including political candidates, social causes, basic health information, and even information on their own product’s faults.

Filters Hurt the Poor

Less-wealthy communities are the most in need of technology because more of their patrons lack these resources at home. This legislation forces less-affluent areas to choose between filling this need or spending money just to block access.

Finally, the Illinois library community has been a leader in promoting Internet safety and supports all efforts particularly funded efforts in promoting Internet safety.

Start calling now.

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