NEW YORK--A federal law requiring libraries to censor constitutionally protected speech online goes into effect tomorrow, but librarians aren't yet obligated to install the required blocking software -- and if the American Civil Liberties Union has anything to say about it, they won't ever have to.
The ACLU, which filed a federal challenge to the law last month on behalf of public libraries, library patrons and website authors nationwide, assured its clients today that they need not immediately worry about compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CHIPA).
""When faced with the prospect of losing much-needed government funding, we can understand why librarians are concerned about the law going into effect on April 20,"" said Ann Beeson, an ACLU attorney on the legal team challenging the law. ""But as we've told our clients and others, libraries can continue to provide their patrons with an uncensored Internet.""
The Act, passed last December 2000, links compliance with the law to two federal funding programs for libraries. Under the first program, known as E-rate, compliance is not required until July 1, 2001, according to Federal Communications Commission regulations issued late last month.
Under the second program, the Library Service and Technology Act (""LSTA""), the Department of Justice recently clarified, after negotiating with the ACLU and other attorneys for the libraries, that compliance is not required until July 31, 2002.
In the meantime, said ACLU senior staff attorney Chris Hansen, the ACLU and the American Library Association, which also filed a challenge to the law, are discussing with the government whether a preliminary injunction will be necessary to block the law before a court has heard the case.
The case has been assigned to a three-judge panel consisting of the Hon. Chief Judge Edward Becker of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia and the Hon. Harvey Bartle III and the Hon. Chief Judge John P. Fullam, both of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, also in Philadelphia.
Attorneys in the case have asked the court to set a conference schedule so that the case may now move forward. The case is Multnomah County Library et al., vs. United States of America, et al., No. 01-CV-1322.
The American Library Association has information online at http://www.ala.org/cipa
In a related case the ACLU filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on April 16 asking the Justices to decline review of a federal appeals court decision striking down as unconstitutional Congress's second attempt to criminalize speech on the Internet.
The 1998 Child Online Protection Act, also known as "COPA," made it a federal crime to use the World Wide Web to communicate "for commercial purposes" material considered "harmful to minors," with penalties of up to $150,000 for each day of violation and up to six months in prison.