Implications of COPPA for Public Libraries

 

An Educational Service of the American Library Association

Office for Information Technology Policy

 

Prepared by Leslie Harris & Associates  www.lharris.com in conjunction with OITP staff  www.ala.org/oitp

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Building on what we have learned about the requirements of COPPA, now let us turn to an examination of the possible role that public libraries can play in this area of privacy policy.  Importantly, entities such as libraries that provide Internet access and Internet service providers are not liable under COPPA for the information collected from juveniles by commercial web sites while children are using that access.  Additionally, COPPA's requirements do not apply to non-commercial web site operators. Even though the law does not impose any specific requirements on libraries, this statute may pose a significant challenge for librarians.  COPPA itself provides limited guidance for children who access the Internet at libraries or other public access points. 

 

Many librarians perceive verifiable parental consent as a cumbersome process that does not work well in an institutional setting such as a library.  Libraries may have concerns about the verifiable parental consent provisions because they can undermine children's access to information.  For example, the verifiable parental consent requirements may be intimidating for parents with limited reading skills or  non-English speaking parents who may find it difficult to review and submit the appropriate consent forms.  Understanding these possible roadblocks to children's Internet use can help librarians seek solutions that respect patron privacy.       

 

Although the purpose of the law is not to frustrate children's attempts to access information, there may be some instances where children are (at least temporarily) unable to access information on a web site because they have not received parental consent.  Unlike a home setting, parents may not be present in the library to give consent.  While public librarians have no authority to provide consent for children to access these restricted web sites, public libraries are a traditional distribution point for resources on information-related public policy issues.  Consequently, public librarians often will have the greatest opportunity to explain to children and their parents why certain material may not be available and to educate children about obtaining parental consent.  Librarians may also help children find other activities on a site that do not require the collection of personally identifiable information.

 

Additionally, many parents who may not have access to the Internet at home or at work use public libraries to check e- mail, read news, and otherwise access the Internet.  As requests come from web sites to parents' e-mail accounts, or as children and parents together bring COPPA-related issues to librarians, the library community needs to be able to explain the law and to help parents ensure that their children's privacy is protected. 

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Further information:

 

Kidz Privacy Campaign:

www.ftc.gov/kidzprivacy

 

ALA Office for Information Technology Policy:

http://www.ala.org/oitp/privacy.html

 

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Copyright 2002, American Library Association, Office for

Information Technology Policy

 

Disclaimer

 

This Online Privacy Tutorial is a service of the American Library Association. The content of this tutorial is primarily the work of Leslie Harris & Associates in Washington, DC. The views expressed in these messages are not necessarily the views of ALA or Leslie Harris & Associates. This tutorial is for information only and will not necessarily provide answers to concerns that arise in any particular situation. This service is not legal advice and does not include many of the technical details arising under certain laws. If you are seeking legal advice to address specific privacy issues, you should consult an attorney licensed to practice in your state.