Over the last decade the Internet has become increasingly prominent in the lives of North Americans, particularly among the youth. As the Internet's popularity has grown, so too have the ethical debates concerning the use and abuse of this medium. Internet filtering software, designed to restrict viewing of "objectionable" content, emerged as one method to impose control over what could be accessed on the World Wide Web. Objections have been raised, however, that Internet filters constitute a new method of censorship by infringing upon free access to information. Filters are most frequently used by parents limiting their children's online behaviour and by employers controlling the content available to employees on company computers and time. With recent legislation such as the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in America, however, Internet filter debates have great implications for libraries.
This paper will briefly outline the methods by which Internet filtering software functions, then will move into a literature review of the practical and philosophical arguments against the use of filtering software. The question of whether minors deserve differential treatment from adults will be addressed. The primary set of examples will be drawn from issues concerning Canadian and American gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) youth and their access to online information on sexual health and orientation in public and school libraries. The paper will close with my personal arguments against the censoring use of Internet filters in libraries, regardless of the age of the patron.
This paper was originally written in the Fall of 2007 for LIS 501: Foundations of Library and Information Studies.
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