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Arkansas legislator introduces Internet filtering bill

By David Hudson
The Freedom Forum Online

12.15.00

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An Arkansas legislator has targeted pornography on the Internet for the upcoming session in a prefiled bill.

Rep. Jim Bob Duggar, a Republican from Springdale, introduced House Bill 1003 which would require public schools and libraries to install filtering software to protect minors from harmful online material.

The measure says that public schools and libraries must equip public access computers "with software that seeks to prevent minors from gaining access to material that is harmful to minors or purchase Internet connectivity from an internet service provider that provides filter services to limit access to material that is harmful to minors."

Under current Arkansas law, public schools and libraries were exempt from the state's harmful-to-minors law. "This bill means that public schools and libraries can now be held accountable if they violate the state's harmful-to-minors law by exposing children to pornography," Duggar said.

The proposed legislation contains a provision which insulates public schools and public libraries from criminal or civil liability if they install filtering software.

Duggar's bill employs a harmful-to-minors standard but does not distinguish between different ages among minors. Free-speech advocates often point out that material unsuitable for a 7-year-old may be suitable, or even educational, for a 17-year-old.

"The measure fails to distinguish between different levels of minors and this presents serious problems," says constitutional law expert Robert O'Neil.

"Most of these filtering bills assume that material that is harmful to minors can be regulated and adequately defined," O'Neil said. "However, as several court decisions have shown, this is an elaborate and difficult constitutional issue."

Internet law expert Jonathan Wallace, who has campaigned actively against the use of filtering software on publicly accessible computers, said the bill "is more carefully drafted than some, in that it contains an exception for material with scientific, artistic, literary or political value for minors."

But the measure still presents constitutional problems, Wallace says. "This bill nonetheless violates the First Amendment by ordering the use of overbroad and flawed software that routinely blocks material with significant ... value to minors."

However, Duggar insists that the measure is a constitutional way of preventing kids from accessing pornography. "Pornography leads to crime and rapes," he said. "It is bad for society and we don't need children being exposed to this type of material."

Update

Arkansas House committee endorses Net filtering bill
'There's more to education than just information,' says bill sponsor Rep. Russ Bennett about plan to require filters in schools, libraries.  02.07.01

Related

Internet filtering plan misses mark, critics say
High rate of erroneously blocked sites highlights serious free-speech issues with software pushed by Congress, says head of anti-filtering group.  10.24.00

Congress passes Net filtering initiative
Clinton expected to sign measure requiring filters in schools, libraries; ACLU vows to challenge law.  12.20.00

Alabama lawmaker introduces school Internet filtering bill
Anti-filtering activist says measure could block students from accessing 'legitimate sites of social and educational value.'  02.29.00

N.J. lawmaker proposes bill requiring libraries, schools to install Net filters
Measure would force the blocking of sites that promote hate, intolerance, satanic cults, violence, drugs or alcohol, 'extreme behavior,' as well those with partial or full nudity.  03.14.00

Florida, Pennsylvania lawmakers weigh Internet filtering proposals
Bills present First Amendment problems, says anti-filtering activist and attorney Jonathan Wallace.  03.15.00

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