CIPA and Kindles

I’ve recently received a flurry of emails from librarians asking about how we are staying CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) compliant with our circulation of Kindles to students.  According to the FCC Consumer Facts about CIPA page, here is what is required by CIPA:

  • 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 electronic 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.
  • IPA does not require the tracking of Internet use by minors or adults.

This question is not a new one (I am sure it is one schools have contemplated as they have gone to 1:1 computing, purchased and distributed devices for student use like iPod Touches), but it is an important one worthy of discussion.   When we began to think about purchasing and circulating Kindles for students to use at school and to take home, we did consider this question.  In my reading and interpretation of CIPA, schools are required to adopt acceptable use/Internet safety policies and to block pornographic or obscene material.  In reading the language of CIPA, it is not clear if that filtering extends to networks outside the school environment, but my interpretation is that the emphasis  is on:

1.  having policies in place to protect students and to outline acceptable use

2.  you are filtering access to information on school campus, not the device itself; I do not interpret CIPA as extending to the home environment.  How would you filter a school device  on a network outside of your school network?

Fellow teacher-librarian Carolyn Foote shares a similar interpretation of CIPA as it relates to the circulation of the Kindle device.  In an email conversation Carolyn has given me permission to share in this space, she states:

My response to any question like this, however, is that since we are having parents and students sign a permission slip(based on yours) regarding appropriate use of the device, then if a student is using it inappropriately that falls within the acceptable use policy guidelines for your school in any case.  The issue isn’t the technology but the policy;  CIPA requires that districts adopt a policy regarding minors.  Your policy is the permission slip.  Parents have given specific permission for their students to use the Kindles.

I would further remind students that they aren’t to download any content without permission from the library, including samples.  Again, I think we have to put the onus on the policy, and the parental permission and student signature regarding their behavior using an electronic device.

At this time, we have district acceptable use policy in place as well as a Kindle user agreement that is signed by parents and students.  In addition, our school wireless network is filtered although we have found students cannot connect to our school’s wireless network via our Kindle devices at this time.    We also do not pay for 3G access for the device.  In terms of Internet access, the Kindle was not designed to be a device for browsing the web—while they can access the Amazon store and search Google on the latest generation, the primary purpose of the device is for reading downloaded books that are purchased and synced onto the Kindle by library staff.

I am not a CIPA or legal scholar, so I welcome others’ opinions and interpretation of CIPA to devices like Kindles, Nooks, netbooks, and iPads—how does your district apply CIPA to the use of these devices by students, especially off campus?

In addition to Carolyn Foote, many thanks also to Doug Johnson, Jeff Johnson, Gaile Loomis, Kathy Parker, and Sarah Houghton-Jan for helping me explore these questions related to CIPA, filtering, and eReader devices earlier this fall as well as this past week.

14 thoughts on “CIPA and Kindles

  1. Have you done a search on the Kindle Store for the words “sex” or “porn?” I think those results are enough that parents would be up in arms. While the network is filtered at the school, no filtering programs can filter at the Amazon store level to protect students from receiving these obscene results. We would love to try to find a way to use the Kindle (or other eReader) safely—I’d love to know how others are implementing!

    1. I’m not sure how that search is any different from students searching on any other school owned device. Remember that districts are only obligated by CIPA to have a filter in place at school–it does not extend to the home environment. If you are running your Kindles on your school wireless, the school filter should pick up if they are searching online on the Kindle device.

      1. What if you’re in a community that offers free Wi-Fi? Or if a neighbor has a wireless access point that is open and unencrypted? Schools have a legal obligation to protect students. That is where my concern about the eReaders comes from…and it goes beyond CIPA. I am a proponent for technology, but we’re trying to use something that was designed for personal, adult use and force it to work in K12 education…and it just doesn’t. There are other ways of doing it and I’m working on making that happen because I think eBooks are important. I don’t see them as relieving us from needing librarians; however I believe they will give librarians the ability to focus on direct instruction and become more of a collaborative force in the school, along with assisting in technology integration and facilitating research.

  2. Buffy,

    How would you handle this response if you were to request creating, administering and promoting a school or school library Facebook page: “I have to sign Form 486 saying we are in compliance with CIPA so we can receive e-rate funding. I’m not willing to go to jail for non-compliance?”

    Thanks in advance for sharing your opinion.

    1. I would ask whoever was asking me to sign the form to explain to me specifically how creating, administering, and promoting a school or school library Facebook page was a violation of CIPA. I would also do research of my own and be willing to challenge such a request that reeks of scare tactics.

      I am willing to bet money this person (or persons) couldn’t answer that question accurately. It sounds like whoever is making such a request is misinformed and acting out of a stance of fear rather than considering how meeting students and parents where they are could lead to positive interactions within the larger school community.

      Buffy

  3. As an E-rate Coordinator, this is definitely a great concern that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Creating a page and promoting it wouldn’t be a CIPA violation; however, when the school isn’t blocking Facebook, you could have issues during an audit. There have been schools who have been cited for not blocking YouTube and Facebook due to the sites allowing access to pages that contained obscenity and potentially pornography.

    I would hesitate in blindly accepting CIPA advice from the DOE when they are NOT the governing body that makes the decisions that go down to the auditors. The FCC should be the administrator to listen to, if guidance were to be given, because they ultimately decide if you get to keep your funding or not. So far, they have not come out with general guidance on filtering above and beyond what they state on their website.

    The problem with YouTube and Facebook arises that filtering systems are not advanced enough to block just the “bad” content…you have to do an all or nothing. We block and then whitelist the good videos; however, all it takes is obscenities posted within the comments to create a violation of CIPA.

    Teachers DO have to be filtered, unless it is for research. CIPA states that even adults must be filtered unless it is for research purposes.

    I understand that broad filters make instruction more difficult; however, sometimes that is all that is technologically available–to block a domain. YouTube and Facebook don’t make it easy with their URL naming systems to whitelist, much less allow certain videos/content and not others.

    I’m not sure of schools losing dollars, per se, but when you’ve had an audit finding, your applications generally tend to go into a higher level of scrutiny because you have been proven to have issues with the rules. That causes delays in funding that costs school systems dollars in the long run because they generally pay in full up front and wait to be reimbursed.

    1. Dear JBL,

      I have a couple of questions.
      Regarding e-readers: did I interpret your post correctly that e-readers are for “adults'” personal use? Regardless, if e-readers purchased by schools are not intended for surfing the web (and I am hoping Kindles can be restricted by either a password created by the purchaser and/or have the wireless turned off), then there is no issue with CIPA.

      Which brings me to my original topic. If students cannot access Facebook at school, but the school library has a Facebook page that students may choose to access off school grounds, does CIPA apply? I would think not, but i would like the powers that be who enforce the law to give a definitive answer. Also, there are different ways to set up Facebook pages. If i am not mistaken, one type of page does not allow comments or online conversation. If the school sponsored page does not break CIPA regulations, but the page has ads put forth by the site owner, i.e. Facebook, does that exclude usage by schools (or at least access to Facebook from school and/or a link to that page)? What if the school Facebook page does allow commentary, but access from school is filtered? Is the school breaking CIPA law due to ownership of the page regardless of restricting access on school grounds? Interesting that books in middle and high school libraries can contain more mature content and deal with issues that young people may or may not be ready for, yet we trust those young people (and their parents if they decide to be involved), to make their own choices about what to read in print, but online school-sponsored content is treated differently. Personal opinions aside, if we are to abide by the law, then it needs to be specific enough in its directives so that we do not censor what we do out of fear instead of facts. As students begin bringing their personal learning devices such as phones, e-readers, tablets, iPods/iPads, etc. to school to use, we will need more answers about how to follow the letter of the law in a way that will allow our children access to the information they need in the most likely formats they will be utilizing as adults.

      1. I can say with a very high degree of confidence that setting up and maintaining a Facebook page is NOT a violation of CIPA. CIPA essentially mandates a filtering system be in place on campus—it does not extend beyond that basic requirement. I’d also point out that many progressive forward thinking districts and schools are utilizing Facebook as an effective communication tool to their learning communities.

        It will take me a day or two to respond to JBL’s comments regarding filtering policies in general as well as ereaders because there are so many assumptions and pieces of misinformation that it is going to take some time to articulate a response to address his/her comments.

        Best,
        Buffy

      2. Stephanie,
        I just found your response. Sorry it has taken me so long to reply.
        1) In regards to adult use…in order to create an account, Amazon must be compliant with COPPA. COPPA doesn’t allow a website to gather information about a child who is under 13. So, in that case, since the Kindle was initially intended for a personal user to create an account and not a school to create umbrella accounts, then yes, it does appear that it is not intended for users that are at least under 13.

        2) Turning off the wireless doesn’t disable it. A child can easily go in and turn it back on without a password. According to the actual language of CIPA, schools are required to filter and enforce the filtering during ANY use of such computers by minors. “(ii) is enforcing the operation of such technology protection measure during any use of such computers by minors;”
        Considering this legislation didn’t have devices in mind, one must assume that any device in the spirit of access of Internet would be considered a “computer.”

        We are implementing iPods/iPads as eReaders with a filtering app called MobiCip. We are hoping that this will allow for interaction with the devices without the issue of students being exposed to anything unsavory.

        The FCC currently has a CIPA Order in circulation which we hope will shed some light and provide some clarifications on many of these questions. Hopefully, it will address your great question about Facebook. I hadn’t thought of it that way!

  4. It’s also my impression from both an Amazon rep and a B&N salesperson that if the school has wifi the kids can still browse within the school — the schools can’t filter the direct connection to Amazon or B&N.
    So (from what I understand)
    • we should be protected from at home or public place use, especially if we’ve written a policy about it in the parental permission slip/contract about not using the wifi and not surfing the online bookstore, especially because we cannot control what filters they have at home or in a public place
    • BUT they still COULD do it AT the school and there’s no way to protect against that (other than not allowing them to use the device AT school and actually taking it away if they do, but that doesn’t prevent it in the first place, which could be the violation of CIPA right there)
    [Background: for my purposes, they will mostly have the eReaders AWAY from school, but need to go through me to get new books, thus need to bring their Kindle or Nook [still working on that decision, Buffy!] to school every so often.]
    Anyone have a solution to keeping them from surfing the bookstores when at school? or was I misinformed by those two reps that their actual stores can’t be blocked? (I have a Kindle to play with, but not a nook. Even with the Kindle, I’m not sure how I block the bookstore feature, and that’s obviously something the bookstore wouldn’t want in general, though it makes sense for my little study.)

    Thanks for any insight.
    Carolyn

    1. In a nutshell, buy the new Nook Simple Touch, and you won’t need to worry about any of this–the new Nook has no web browser. 🙂 You can’t block or disable web browsing on the other devices.

      Buffy

  5. But again, according to the rep, the book store connection doesn’t go through the browser.
    FWIW, I am almost tipped to the Nook at this point. I still want to finish my conversation with you about all the other things about the Nook vs Kindle (will help convince our grantor, if needed; I’ve already got the principal convinced). I wish I had a nook I could play with the way I’ve been playing with a Kindle all these months. But I’ve also convinced MY boss, and that goes a long way🙂. Thanks so much for all your time and information so far!!!!
    C

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