Groups to fight filter law

The ACLU and the American Library Association prepare to challenge a law that requires schools and libraries to filter Internet content

The American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union are preparing separate legal challenges to a new law that calls for schools and libraries to filter Internet content.

The Children's Internet Protection Act, which was signed into law Dec. 21, 2000, requires Internet content to be filtered at schools and libraries that receive federal telecommunications and technology funds.

The ALA voted last week to file suit in response to CIPA. The legal strategy and timing of the suit has yet to be determined, said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA's Washington office.

The ACLU will monitor how the Federal Communications Commission drafts rules to enforce CIPA before taking action, said Chris Hansen, senior national staff counsel for the organization.

The law takes effect in April, but "the question is on what date do libraries and schools have to do something that they aren't doing?" Hansen said. Whether the ACLU requests a temporary restraining order to block implementation of the law also depends on that effective date, he said.

The measure calls for libraries and schools to install filtering software on computers in order to receive federal subsidies for Internet access and computers. The filtering requirement applies to visual depictions — not text - classified as child pornography, obscene or considered harmful to minors.

To receive E-Rate grants and funding that covers computer purchases, schools must certify that filters are in place. The E-Rate program, which is administered by the FCC, helps schools and libraries pay for telecommunications services, Internet access and internal connections.

The ACLU's suit initially would be limited to public libraries because there is legal precedent in that area, said Marvin Johnson, legislative counsel for free speech and Internet issues in the organization's Washington office. In 1998 a federal district ruled in Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of Loudoun County Library that the Virginia county's policy requiring site-blocking filters on all library computers violated the right to free speech.

"No court has really discussed the issue with regard to public school libraries and public schools," Johnson said. "We need to focus on public libraries since you have a greater amount of people being affected by them. Then we'll turn our attention to public schools."

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