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Standing Up to Internet Censorship

Catherine Crump,
Staff Attorney,
ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
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October 25, 2011

In two different cases this week, the ACLU will be in court arguing that the government has unconstitutionally censored the Internet. Ever since the Supreme Court issued a fractured opinion on Internet filtering in 2003, when nine justices wrote five separate opinions, the right of Americans to have uncensored access to the Internet in public schools and libraries has been called into question.

Today, the ACLU of Washington is in court challenging a public library’s refusal to disable its restrictive Internet filtering software imposed on adult users. The filtering policy hampers adults’ researching school assignments, locating businesses and organizations, and doing personal reading on lawful subjects. The suit asserts that the policy violates adult patrons’ rights under the Washington State and United States Constitutions. More information about the case, Bradburn v. North Central Regional Library District, is available here.

On Thursday, we will be in court for our lawsuit against a Missouri school district that uses Internet filtering software to block access to websites supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people but permits access to websites that condemn homosexuality or oppose LGBT legal protections. Allowing access to just one side of a debate is known in constitutional law as viewpoint discrimination, and has been condemned by the Supreme Court as the most egregious form of speech restriction. More information about the case, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian And Gays, Inc, et al v. Camdenton R-III School District, is here.

The fundamental principle of free speech in our democracy is based on the idea that the best way to uncover the truth about something is to allow all viewpoints to be heard and debated. It is a disservice to both students and adults engaging in reading and research to deprive them of access to the uncensored Internet, which is the most powerful and democratic forum for speech ever invented. As the Supreme Court once proclaimed, “it is no exaggeration to conclude that the content on the Internet is as diverse as human thought.”

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