Kansas library system tries to create more First Amendment-friendly Internet filter

Aspublic schools and libraries tackle federal Internet filtering requirements,some libraries in Kansas are turning to a state-run content filtering systemthat its creators say complies with federal law and gives users greater accessto legal Web sites than commercial filters.

The Northeast Kansas LibrarySystem created its own free filtering system, known as Kanguard, in response tothe Children’s Internet Protection Act. Last June the U.S. Supreme Court ruledthe federal law requiring public schools and libraries to install filteringsoftware that blocks material deemed “harmful to minors” did not violate theFirst Amendment and could be enforced.

First Amendment advocateschallenged the law because they say filtering software, while attempting toblock harmful information, blocks a significant amount of information that isharmful to no one. Student journalists have reported problems accessingprotected Web sites, such as those discussing sex education or family planningservices, because of the filter software.

Kanguard examines the contentof the site through a database of blocked domain names and URLs, unlike mostcommercial filters that only use suspect keywords to block sites, said ThomasReddick, automation coordinator for the Northeast Kansas Library System and oneof the Kanguard creators. Kanguard does not block a Web site just because thesite contains a suspect word, making more protected sites available tominors.

To address the concerns of mistakenly blocked sites, an appealsprocess was established for Kanguard, which can be modified if a user requeststhat a Web site be added or removed from the block list. A five-member librarycommittee votes on the request and it is granted or denied within 48hours.

Since a version of Kanguard was launched in February 2002, thereview committee has received between 100 to 150 requests that sites be eitherremoved or added to the block list. There has been an equal number of removal oraddition requests, Reddick said. 

Kansas public libraries may useKanguard for free. Unlike commercial software, Kanguard does not require usersto pay licensing fees. Reddick said Kanguard is estimated to have saved thestate $500,000 per year over commercial filters.