ACLU Will Fight Government Plan to Censor Internet in Libraries

January 19, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC — One month after Congress passed a law pressuring public schools and libraries to install blocking or filtering software on computer terminals to screen out “adult” Internet content, the American Civil Liberties Union is gearing up to challenge the measure in federal court, Cyber Law Journal reported.

“This law requires, for the first time in the nation’s history, that local libraries censor speech for every adult and every child. That’s got to present First Amendment problems,” said Chris Hansen, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU, referring to the new federal statute, known as the “Children’s Internet Protection Act.”

The law in question, spearheaded through Congress by Senator John McCain and signed by President Clinton last month, requires public libraries that receive a certain type of federal funding to install technology on computer terminals used by adults to lock Internet access to visual images that are obscene or depict child pornography.

For library computer terminals used by children, libraries also have to screen out visual material that is “harmful to minors,” such as sexually explicit image without social or educational value that are obscene for children but legally protected for adults.

The law imposes the same scheme on public schools that receive the same type of funds. The ACLU has not yet decided whether its lawsuit will address the school-based filtering requirements.

Opponents say that although the law’s intentions may be laudable, it nonetheless tramples on important constitutional rights.

The most obvious problems, Hansen said, are the law’s violations of First Amendment rights. But Hansen also noted that many people who use libraries for Internet access are those not rich enough to own a home computer. The law would therefore create a kind of second- class passport to the Internet for these citizens, many of whom may be minorities. “That may be a violation of the equal protection clause” of the Constitution, he said.

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