~ 2. March 2010 ~
(I delivered this statement to the SCC Academic Senate today, and provided senators with copies.)
The District Office recently began employing a device that filters out certain classes of websites district-wide. The principle reason for this action was to block access to sites known to distribute spyware and malware, which pose a significant threat to the security of our network and the privacy of its users.
The use of the filtering device was expanded when Vice Chancellor Bill Karns, motivated by evidence of widespread and sustained viewing of pornographic and gambling websites on staff computers, ordered that sites classified as pornographic or gambling sites by the filtering device be blocked.
Few if any of us would defend the use of campus computers and/or work time for gambling or the viewing of sexually explicit material. Yet DO’s actions merit our concern, both for the substantive question of content filtering in an academic environment and for the non-transparent and unilateral way in which these actions have been and continue to be conducted.
Institutions of higher learning value freedom of information as central to the cause of free inquiry and the development of critical thinking. Inasmuch as the Los Rios Community College District strives to create “an atmosphere of thoughtful, unfettered expression, discussion, testing, and proof of ideas,” content filtering plainly contradicts this effort.
Sacramento City College librarians unanimously endorse the American Library Association’s statement of Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries, which holds:
Open and unfiltered access to the Internet should be conveniently available to the academic community in a college or university library. Content filtering devices and content-based restrictions are a contradiction of the academic library mission to further research and learning through exposure to the broadest possible range of ideas and information. Such restrictions are a fundamental violation of intellectual freedom in academic libraries.
Even without this blanket statement, the well-known technological limits of filtering devices (sometimes referred to as “censorware”), which are prone to arbitrary “overblocking,” make them unacceptable in an academic environment.
Lack of Faculty Input
The introduction of content filtering took place without broad campus discussion. The actions did not become known to faculty members until the filtering device temporarily impeded access to library subscription databases. The issue was placed on the agenda of the January meeting of the Educational Technology Committee only at the request of faculty members seeking more information.
Filtering of the Internet affects a core academic resource and therefore has far-ranging implications for teaching and learning. Faculty must be involved in decisions regarding campus-wide access to the Internet.