CIPA – Federal Library & School Safety Law

Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)

Additionally, it is important to note that a specific law pertaining to libraries and schools regarding the Internet was passed by Congress in 2000 and was found to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. The ALA and the ACLU commonly misinterpret this law and disseminate misleading information to libraries and schools regarding their rights to place filters on computers. You will likely face this.

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. CIPA imposes certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding for Internet access or internal connections from the E-rate program – a program that makes certain communications technology more affordable for eligible schools and libraries. In early 2001, the FCC issued rules implementing CIPA.

What CIPA Requires

  • Schools and libraries subject to CIPA may not receive the discounts offered by the E-rate program unless they certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures. The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene, (b) child pornography, or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors). Before adopting this Internet safety policy, schools and libraries must provide reasonable notice and hold at least one public hearing or meeting to address the proposal.
  • Schools subject to CIPA are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online activities of minors.
  • Schools and libraries subject to CIPA are required to adopt and implement an Internet safety policy addressing: (a) access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; (b) the safety and security of minors when using electonic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications; (c) unauthorized access, including so-called “hacking,” and other unlawful activities by minors online; (d) unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors; and (e) measures restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them.
  • Schools and libraries are required to certify that they have their safety policies and technology in place before receiving E-rate funding.
  • CIPA does not affect E-rate funding for schools and libraries receiving discounts only for telecommunications, such as telephone service.
  • An authorized person may disable the blocking or filtering measure during any use by an adult to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purposes.
  • CIPA does not require the tracking of Internet use by minors or adults.

Visit the Federal Communications Commission’s info page about CIPA by clicking here.


Opposition to CIPA:

In 2001, the ALA and the ACLU challenged the law on the grounds that the law required libraries to unconstitutionally block access to constitutionally protected information on the Internet. They specifically argued that “no filtering software successfully differentiates constitutionally protected speech from illegal speech on the Internet.” In 2003, upon appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the law was upheld as constitutional and that it was permissible to install filters on all school and library computers, and further held that it was constitutional to mandate libraries receiving specific funding to have filters installs.

The ALA and ACLU often argue that it is against a person’s First Amendment rights to have to ask a librarian to remove a filter for a desired search. However, this is exactly what the High Court said was sufficient in instances where an individual wanted to access material blocked by a filter. Adults may ask the librarian to unblock material. This is an important added barrier to individuals viewing indecent material in our schools and libraries. The mere need to ask would deter most individuals from attempting to view such material, and the requests would largely remain for material that is reasonable or for a specific purpose other than gratifying one’s personal desire to view porn.


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