Library Wireless Security and Safety
Based on WebJunction members' input for our Focus on Wireless Internet Access in Public Libraries, here are a few top concerns:
Libraries avoid guaranteeing that patrons' personal computers will be completely safe from intrusions when they are using the library's wireless network. Most wireless policies include a disclaimer something like the following:"The library assumes no responsibility for the safety of equipment, or for laptop configurations, security, or data files resulting from connection to the library's network."
According to the CIPA FAQ put together by Robert Bocher of the Wisconsin Department of Education:
An increasingly popular option in libraries is to allow patron owned laptops to access the Internet through the library's wireline or wireless network. CIPA references the need for the library to have a TPM in place, "with respect to any of its computers with Internet access [emphasis added]." It is very reasonable to assume that "its" refers to the library's PCs and that patron laptops need not be filtered. Officials at a federal agency have indicated, off the record, that they agree with this assumption.
Based on this logic, however, if you decide to lend patrons your own notebook computers (see, for example, the Vineland (NJ) Public Library), these computers would need to be filtered to comply with CIPA.
The library technology blog TechnoBiblio includes a post discussing the issue of CIPA and patron wireless computers, which points to this WebJunction article with more thoughts from Bob Bocher. Library Journal notes varying opinionson the subject.
Both the Public Library of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County (NC) and St. John the Baptist Parish (LA) Library state in their wireless policies that their wireless access points are "filtered to comply with CIPA regulations." Also interesting are June, August, and September 2004 minutes from the Richland (WA) Library Board, which provide a useful glimpse into a library's process for determining filtering policy as it relates to wireless computing. The Richland Library's decision was to prohibit patrons under the age of 17 from using wireless computers in the library.
This tangled and controversial topic is a subset of the larger debate about the safety of electromagnetic radiation in general (including cellular phones and microwaves) safety. A "radio frequency safety" FAQ (last updated in 2002) is available from the FCC at http://www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety/rf-faqs.html, and a FAQ on cellular phones (last updated in 2003) is available from the FDA at http://www.fda.gov/cellphones/qa.html. The EMR Policy Institute disputes the US government's position and provides its own FAQ.
The St. Charles (IL) Public Library wireless FAQ states: "No, the wireless network does not pose any health risk. It uses radio signals within the spectrum of safety. While there will always be controversy over the safety of exposure to radio signals, it is something we are exposed to whether we have a wireless network or not."
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