"The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers." -FCC CIPA Consumer Factsheet
Parents, educators, the government: all wish to ensure that the world is made as safe as possible for our children.
Computers with internet access have become commonplace in schools and homes. With this increase in opportunity for connectivity has come a parallel increase in concern about the perceived dangers of cyberspace for minors. Legislation requiring the blocking of sites deemed inappropriate through the filtering of school district networks was intended to provide protection for students and peace of mind for their parents.
Unfortunately, this approach hasn't worked well for a number of reasons:
- no filter can catch every objectionable site, therefore relying on filters generates a false sense of security
- filters block many valuable resources. For example, a science class researching viruses would find any sites mentioning "sexually transmitted diseases" inaccessible, including sites maintained by the Federal government
- it is possible to get around filters by using proxy sites. Many students have become adept at circumventing the safeguards put in place to protect them
- while teachers may request that certain sites be unblocked for classroom use, the process can be frustrating and discourage technology use
According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center Fact Sheet
A growing number of people are promoting Internet safety education in an effort to help keep youngsters safe from Internet sex offenders. But some of the information in their lectures, pamphlets, videos, and web sites does not reflect what researchers have learned about the important features of these crimes.
There is a widely quoted statistic (from the 2005 University of New Hampshire Youth Internet Safety study) that 1 in 7 youth are threatened by "online predators." In fact,
- These solicitations did not necessarily come from "online predators". They were all unwanted online requests to youth to talk about sex, answer personal questions about sex or do something sexual. But many could have been from other youth. In most cases, youth did not actually know the ages of solicitors. When they believed they knew, they said about half were other youth.
- These solicitations were not necessarily devious or intended to lure. Most were limited to brief online comments or questions in chatrooms or instant messages. Many were simply rude, vulgar comments...
- Most recipients did not view the solicitations as serious or threatening. Two-thirds were not frightened or upset by what happened.
- Almost all youth handled unwanted solicitations easily and effectively. Most reacted by blocking or ignoring solicitors, leaving sites, or telling solicitors to stop.
A more immediate danger, one which is estimated to affect as many as 43% of our students, is cyber bullying. Unlike face-to-face bullying, the online version can take place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Harassers, emboldened by electronic anonymity, can choose to prolong and extend their activities, drawing in others and leaving the chosen target with no safe haven.
The United States Congress has recently acted to bring CIPA into line with current research regarding student online safety:
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) are extremely pleased that on September 30  Congress passed, as part of S. 1492, an update to the Children's Internet Protection Act which requires schools participating in the E-Rate program to educate students regarding appropriate behavior on social networking and chat room sites and about cyberbullying. ISTE and CoSN have advocated for this approach for many years and we are pleased that Congress has now ratified our position. Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students.
"Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students."
We need to teach our children how to recognize danger, make good choices, and behave responsibly online. Beyond the wall lies the future.
"Beyond the wall" by Guiseppe Bognanni