Citing New Government Report, ACLU Calls on Congress to Reject Internet Blocking Bill

October 20, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–Citing a new government report rejecting the mandatory use of blocking software, the American Civil Liberties Union today renewed its call for the defeat of a bill mandating the use of such tools on computers in public schools and libraries.

“Congress should now take the advice it asked for from the panel it appointed and reject any attempt to pass mandatory blocking software legislation,” said Marvin Johnson, a Legislative Counsel with the ACLU’s Washington National Office.

A vote on the massive federal appropriations bill, which includes the filtering amendment introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), is expected next week before Congress winds up its 106th session. If the bill passes as written, the ACLU said it would likely file a legal challenge.

The report was issued by the “COPA Commission,” an 18-member panel set up under the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) to study ways to protect children online.

Commenting on the blocking software scheme, Donald Telage, chairman of the commission, told the Wall Street Journal that “not even the most-conservative members of the commission felt that was the road to go down.”

Last year, the ACLU successfully challenged censorship provisions of the COPA censorship law. The government has until December 14, 2000 to seek an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected an earlier version of the law in 1997.

Blocking software is notoriously clumsy and inevitably restricts access to valuable, protected speech, the ACLU’s Johnson said, noting that 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.

In a report of its own on blocking software, the ACLU has suggested a variety of less restrictive means that libraries could use voluntarily to keep children from accessing inappropriate material online, including establishing acceptable use policies and placing privacy screens around terminals.

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