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Federal panel refuses to dismiss suits against library filtering

By The Associated Press

07.27.01

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PHILADELPHIA — Lawsuits challenging an act that makes federal funding for library technology contingent upon Internet filtering will move forward to trial.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association filed lawsuits challenging the Children's Internet Protection Act, which would block federal technology grants for public libraries or schools unless they install filters to keep children from viewing pornography.

The Justice Department asked to have the lawsuits thrown out, but a two-paragraph order issued yesterday rejected the government's argument that the challengers had no valid First Amendment claim.

The lawsuits, which involve only the portion of CIPA that affects libraries, say the filters would prevent library patrons from viewing Web pages that included constitutionally protected speech. A special three-judge panel heard arguments on July 23 on the government's motion to dismiss the lawsuits, which have been consolidated and will be heard together.

"The court essentially recognized that our clients — who include libraries, library patrons and Web site authors nationwide — have valid fears that their access to socially valuable, protected speech will be cut off under this law," said Chris Hansen, an attorney with the ACLU who argued the matter before the federal judges last week.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said last night that attorneys were reviewing the judges' decision, but had no further comment.

CIPA was passed by Congress in 2000. The case is scheduled to be heard by the three-judge panel on Feb. 14. Any appeal to the panel's decision will go straight to the Supreme Court.

"We firmly believe mandatory filtering is misguided and unworkable in the context of a public institution," said John W. Berry, ALA president, in a statement released late yesterday.

Edward R. Becker, chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said during arguments earlier this week that the law might require a library patron who wanted to look for information about a sexual dysfunction to ask a librarian to remove the filters.

"This person would have to tell his or her neighbor, who is the librarian, or someone in the community, something which would be terribly embarrassing," Becker said July 23.

U.S. Justice Department attorneys argued for the government that the law would only require libraries to uphold their local community standards, something they do when deciding which books to put on their shelves.

Libraries have until July 2002 to comply with the law.

Update

Library filtering debate goes before federal panel
Judges must decide whether law aimed at keeping objectionable material away from children censors constitutionally protected speech.  03.25.02

Previous

Government moves to dismiss Net-filtering suits
But American Library Association, ACLU tell federal judges Children’s Internet Protection Act would require librarians to censor protected speech.  07.24.01

Related

Massachusetts libraries debate restricting patrons' Internet access
Staffers say issue presents immediate dangers because of local, federal filtering mandates and worries over public voyeurism, obscenity.  08.13.01

Library board calls Net filtering 'censorship,' agrees to it anyway
South Carolina libraries must install filters or risk losing half of their state funding.  10.01.01

San Francisco bans Internet filters at public libraries
Decision by Board of Supervisors may cost city $20,000 in federal funds; city’s annual library budget is $50 million.  10.03.01

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