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ACLU to challenge Internet filtering requirement for public libraries

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Prior Restraints         Dec 20, 2000    

ACLU to challenge Internet filtering requirement for public libraries

  • As part of the recent spending bill, Congress has set a mandate for schools and libraries to install filtering software, but the new law will be challenged in court.

The spending bill passed by Congress Dec. 15 contained a provision requiring all schools and libraries that receive federal aid for Internet service to install filtering software to protect children from adult material.

The provision, deemed the Children’s Internet Protection Act, does not specify precisely which software to use, but requires libraries and public schools to adopt acceptable use policies accompanied by a “safety technology.”

The American Civil Liberties Union announced Dec. 18 that it will file a lawsuit seeking to declare the provision unconstitutional.

“This is the first time since the development of the local, free public library in the 19th century that the federal government has sought to require censorship in every single town and hamlet in America,” said Chris Hansen, ACLU senior staff attorney. “More than 100 years of local control of libraries and the strong tradition of allowing adults to decide for themselves what they want to read is being casually set aside.”

The ACLU has criticized the imprecision of filtering software. For example, some software cannot distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable uses of a word, which in turn leads to excessive censorship. In one instance, House Majority Leader Richard “Dick” Armey, a staunch proponent of Internet blocking, found his own website censored because it contains the word “dick.”

Earlier this year, Congress appointed a panel to investigate the use of filtering software. The 18-member commission rejected the idea of mandating the use of filtering software because it inevitably restricts access to valuable, protected speech.

The ACLU has successfully challenged past government efforts to censor the Internet, including the case that led the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the Communications Decency Act, and a federal district court case in Virginia which held that mandatory use of blocking software is unconstitutional.


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