aclu, ala file law suit against child internet protection act - american civil liberties union, american library association declare law unconstitutional - brief article
electronic education report
march 28, 2001  

the american civil liberties union (new york), the american library association (chicago) along with several other library and first amendment advocacy groups filed two lawsuits on march 20 in the u.s. district court for the eastern district of pennsylvania, asking that the child internet protection act be declared unconstitutional and revoked.

the aclu filed on behalf of public libraries throughout the country as well as several private citizens.  the ala filed on behalf of several organizations including freedom to read foundation (chicago) and state and regional library associations for alaska, new york, california and new england.  emily whitfield of the aclu said the two lawsuits were filed jointly.

the legislation requires public libraries and schools receiving federal funding to install filtering software on all of their computers.  it was proposed to prevent students from accessing pornography and other material deemed objectionable for children and teenagers.

the legislation was passed as part of a federal appropriations bill last fall.  elliott mincberg, vice president and legal director of the people for the american way foundation (washington, d.c), which is providing legal support, said another lawsuit representing schools might follow.  the lawsuits were filed in philadelphia because other similar complaints were previously filed in that court, he said.

many legitimate sites blocked

in the complaint, plaintiffs argue that the law "imposes unprecedented, sweeping federal speech restrictions on public libraries nationwide" by requiring them to install filtering software designed to block obscenities, pornography and other material considered harmful to minors.

the plaintiffs argued that filtering software blocks access to many legitimate sites.  "any attempt to meet the act's requirements inevitably will lead to the suppression of vast amounts of protected internet speech that would otherwise be available," according to the complaint.

many legitimate web addresses are blocked not because of their content but because the filtering software is designed to halt access to sites that share ip (internet protocol) addresses or hosting services with potentially offensive sites.  this includes free hosting services, which according to alan goldblatt of filter provider n2h2 (seattle, wa) often carry pornographic web sites as well as political candidates' web sites.  n2h2 and cyberpatrol (scotts valley, ca) claim they routinely check their prohibited access lists to ensure access to legitimate sites, but bennett haselton of peacefire, an organization that opposes filtering, says this is not true.  he said that peacefire tested both company's products and found that they still block sites such as amnesty international and peace magazine.

judith krug, director of the office for intellectual freedom at the american library association, said the law is not necessary as 97% of all u.s. libraries have an acceptable use policy that prohibits accessing violent, pornographic or otherwise offensive material on library computers.  "we know for a fact that the library is the main access point to the internet outside of the home and workplace," she said.  "particularly for young people, information about aids, sexuality, suicide could mean the difference between life and death. this law keeps us from giving people access to the information they need."

the aclu can be reached at (212) 344-3005 or at www.aclu.org.  the american library association can be reached at (800) 545-2433 or at www.ala.org.

copyright 2001 simba information, inc.

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