The Children’s Internet Protection Act and Its Implications
The Children’s Internet Protection Act or CIPA for short is a federal law passed in 2000 that addressed concerns relating to children’s access to harmful, offensive, or obscene content that may be viewed while using the internet. As opposed to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or COPPA, the CIPA focuses on children’s internet use and access in the context of libraries and schools. As such, the CIPA imposes certain requirements on schools and libraries that receive discounts for internal connection or internet access through the E-rate program, a federal government program that makes certain communications services and products more affordable for eligible schools and libraries. The federal government enforces compliance with the CIPA by linking it to the E-rate program, and retains the right to restrict or rescind funding if this compliance is not met.
What are the requirements of the CIPA?
School districts and libraries who are subject to the CIPA are not eligible to receive the discounts offered through the E-rate program unless they first certify that they have developed an internet safety policy that includes various technology protection measures. These protection measures must block or filter internet access to pictures or images that contain obscenities, child pornography, or any other visual content that could be harmful to minors. Prior to adopting an internet safety policy, schools and libraries must first provide reasonable notice and hold at least one public meeting or hearing to address the proposal.
This being said, schools and libraries creating their own internet safety policies are not deemed as being enough to remain compliant with the CIPA. In order to maintain CIPA compliance, schools and libraries must ensure that their internet safety policies contain the following key functions:
- Internet filtering – internet filtering is a protection measure applied to all computers that will be accessed by students. This technology must block harmful internet items such as pornography or any other online content that me be deemed obscene or offensive.
- Internet monitoring – schools and libraries must monitor online activities to ensure that students are not engaging in harmful activities or behavior. This can include cyberbullying, the purchase of illegal substances, radicalization, or self-harm.
- Communications safety – this includes safe access to email, forums, chat rooms, forums, and other forms of electronic communication.
- Unauthorized access – schools and libraries must ensure that they provide protection and supervise students to prevent hacking and other forms of illegal online activity.
- Unauthorized disclosure – schools and libraries must provide protection against the illegal disclosure and use of the personal information of minors.
- Education – schools and libraries must provide educational information to minors concerning digital citizenship, such as cyberbullying awareness and how to properly interact on social media platforms and networks.
While schools and libraries who receive funding through E-rate programs are required to monitor the online activities of children, they are not required to track this information. Additionally, the CIPA does not apply to schools and libraries who receive E-rate program discounts for telecommunications purposes only. Furthermore, an authorized person within a school or library may disable any internet block or filtering features for the purposes of research or other lawful activities that they deem necessary. While the primary penalty that can be levied against schools and libraries who are to be in non-compliance with the CIPA is the loss of funding, there are serious legal consequences that can result from providing false information or certifications to the federal government in any context in which they operate.
While the internet has changed tremendously in the 21 years since the CIPA was initially passed, the need to restrict what children can access when using the internet remains a concern of many parents, educators, and policymakers alike. To this end, the CIPA was amended in 2011, to include social media websites and other online entities that either did not exist or were not as prominent in 2001 as they were in 2011 are continue to be in the present. What’s more, the nature of harmful online activities such as cyberbullying have also changed due to the rise of such online sites. Despite all of this, the CIPA remains as a legislative measure that protects children when using the internet at the library or in school.