Court Upholds Livermore Library's Uncensored Internet Access Policy INTERNET ACCESS POLICY

January 14, 1999 12:00 am

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Thursday, January 14, 1999

SAN-FRANCISCO — In a first of its kind ruling endorsing on-line free speech in libraries, the Alameda County Superior Court today dismissed a lawsuit seeking to require the Livermore Library to censor Internet use at the library. Today’s ruling in Kathleen R. v City of Livermore marks the second time that the court has rejected an attempt by Kathleen R. to force the Livermore library to abandon its open access policy governing Internet use.

“The court’s ruling today sets an important precedent for libraries in California and across the nation,” said Ann Brick, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, who filed a friend of the court brief in support of the library. “By upholding the Library’s open access policy, the court not only vindicates the judgment of the library board in adopting the policy, it vindicates the First Amendment values on which the policy rests.”

Last October, the Alameda County Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit’s original complaint in which Kathleen R. argued that the library’s open access policy constituted a public nuisance. In her amended complaint, Kathleen R. claimed she had a constitutional right to force the library to discontinue its open access policy. Following a hearing on January 13, Judge Hernandez dismissed the second complaint today, stating that no further amended complaint could be submitted to the court, thereby dismissing the entire lawsuit.

In its amicus brief, the ACLU argued that the Livermore Public Library’s policy on Internet use specifically informs its patrons that material available over the Internet may be controversial, that the library is not responsible for the content of material available on the Internet, and that parents are responsible for supervising the Internet use of their children. “The library’s policy is sensitive both to First Amendment concerns and the concerns of parents,” Brick noted. “It enables each family to be sure that its children use the Internet in a manner that is consistent with its own values without imposing those values on other families.” Brick noted that this position has long been espoused by the American Library Association and the majority of libraries across the country.

In a recent related case in which the ACLU represented Internet content providers, Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library, a federal court in Virginia held that a library’s policy of using filters to censor materials on library computers violated the First Amendment. The federal judge, in striking down the library’s filtering policy, noted that the software, which claimed to block only obscene material, blocked sites such as those of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner as well as the web site of the Maryland affiliate of the American Association of University Women.

“We are pleased that the Livermore court recognized, as a Virginia court recently did, that blocking software in libraries creates, rather than solves, constitutional problems,” said Ann Beeson, an ACLU National Staff Attorney who represented a group of Internet content providers in the Virginia case. “The Livermore Public Library is neither responsible for the content available on the Internet nor for Kathleen R.’s son’s actions in going to the library and using the Internet without his mother’s supervision,” she added.

The amicus brief in support of the City of Livermore’s motion to dismiss was filed on behalf of the ACLU of Northern California, the national ACLU and People for the American Way.

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