As ACLU Prepares Legal Challenge to Mandatory Internet Blocking, Consumer Reports Says Products Fail Test

February 14, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–A new Consumer Reports test of blocking software confirms that a federal law mandating the use of these clumsy products in libraries is unconstitutional and unworkable, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

“A federal law mandating blocking software in libraries makes about as much sense as a law requiring a stranger to randomly pull books off shelves and refuse to tell librarians or patrons which books are gone,” said Chris Hansen, an ACLU Senior Staff Attorney. “It gives parents a false sense of security and it takes away control from librarians and their patrons.”

Hansen said the ACLU expects to launch a legal challenge next month to the “Child Internet Protection Act,” a law that ties crucial library funding to the mandated use of blocking software on Internet terminals used by both adults and minors in public libraries.

The ACLU said that blocking programs significantly reduce the amount and diversity of speech and information available to library patrons, many of whom cannot afford their own computers and Internet access.

In some cases, according to Consumer Reports, “filters block harmless sites merely because their software does not consider the context in which a word or phrase is used. Far more troubling is when a filter appears to block legitimate sites based on moral or political value judgements.”

“Librarians are uniquely qualified to teach library patrons how to find the content they want and avoid inappropriate content,” said Ann Beeson an ACLU attorney who is lead counsel with Hansen in the ACLU challenge to blocking software. “Our lawsuit will show that online education is a far preferable and less restrictive alternative than clumsy filters.”

A wide spectrum of organizations have opposed blocking software mandates, including the American Library Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the conservative Free Congress Foundation and state chapters of the Eagle Forum and the American Family Association.

The Consumer Reports article on blocking software is available online at

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