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Journal News, The (Westchester County, NY)

June 24, 2003

Supreme Court upholds library filters

Author: Barbara Livingston Nackman; Staff
The Journal News

Section: News
Page: 1B

Index Terms:
GWPR-Westchester and Putnam and Rockland

Estimated printed pages: 3

Article Text:

U.S. funds could be lost if Internet porn sites aren't blocked

Barbara Livingston Nackman

The Journal News

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that libraries must use blocking filters on all computer terminals or be denied federal money in a decision that is viewed as a success for Congress, and a stinging defeat for the American Library Association.

Software filters are intended to prevent children from accessing pornography and the majority of the justices said because the filters can be shut off upon request, it is a reasonable requirement. They upheld the Children's Internet Protection Act, requiring libraries receiving discounts or other federal aid for Internet connections to use filters on all computers, for adults and minors alike.

"Because public libraries' use of Internet filtering software does not violate their patrons' First Amendment rights ... (it) is a valid exercise of Congress' spending power," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote in yesterday's 6-3 decision.

Local librarians yesterday expressed disappointment.

"As a dyed-in-the-wool trained librarian, it flies in the face of everything we believe in. There is still some difficulty with these filters. They block out legitimate sites. It is legislating morality," Mahopac Library Director Patricia Kaufman said yesterday.

The justices determined that requiring filters does not violate First Amendment rights of library users as had been argued by the library association, whose president is also the director of the Westchester Library System based in Ardsley.

"It is a very dismal decision," association President Maurice Freedman said yesterday from Toronto, where the group representing thousands of U.S. libraries is holding its annual meeting in conjunction with the Canadian Library Association.

The ruling upholds legislation requiring libraries to install software programs on all Internet terminals in order to prevent access to Web sites with suggestive keyword names, he explained.

"It puts a burden on the users of terminals with filters to request a librarian to unfilter or unblock," he said. The decision will infringe on privacy rights of library users. In a deviation from the original legislation, the court's ruling does not require users to explain why they want the filter inactivated.

The regulation meets community standards, said David Crane, of the National Law Center for Children and Families in Fairfax, Va, whose mission is to keep pornography away from children.

"The Supreme Court reaffirmed Congress' responsibility and its compelling interest to protect children from harmful materials," said Crane, a former staff member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which wrote the law.

"Congress has said when schools and libraries take taxpayer money to connect to the Internet, they become partners," he added. "Libraries are places where parents entrust their children to others."

In December 2000, Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act. Slated to go into effect April 20, 2001, it was put on hold when the library association and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law charging it impinged on information access.

Last June, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled the law did violate First Amendment rights. The government, through the Justice Department, brought the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and Paul Smith for the American Library Association gave oral arguments March 5.

Joining Rehnquist in overturning the lower court were justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Concurring opinions were filed by justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer.

Justice John Paul Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, as did Justice David Souter, joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The problem with the restriction, said Stan Ploszaj, project manager at Ramapo-Catskill Library System, serving Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and southern Ulster counties, is that it hinges on inadequate censors.

The filtering doesn't work particularly well, he said. "Unless you go into filtering by specific URL, which is quite a bear to maintain, it is not worthwhile. Most (filtering) is quick and dirty by keyword," he explained.

The bottom line is libraries will have to choose between filters or funding.

"Libraries will have to install software or give up money, which most can hardly afford to do," said Chris Hansen of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Reach Barbara Livingston Nackman at bnackman@thejournalnews.com or call 845-228-2272.

Download decision

To download a copy of the complete U.S. Supreme Court decision with dissenting views, go to:

www.supremecourtus.gov/ opinions/02pdf/02-361.pdf

Copyright (c) The Journal News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: wst2003062409590621