EFF: ACLU News Release: Victory in CIPA Filtering Case
May 31, 2002 11:03 PDT
[Forwarding from the ACLU via the EFF. --Peter.]
[This ACLU media release redistributed with permission by EFF
as a courtesy to the media professionals on the EFF presslist.
EFF is co-counsel in the CIPA legal challenge and EFF Senior
Staff Attorney Lee Tien is available for interviews on the
ruling at +1 415 436-9333 x102 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Federal Court Rejects Government Censorship in Libraries, Citing Free Speech
Rights of Patrons
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, May 31, 2002
CONTACT: Emily Whitfield, ACLU
PHILADELPHIA--In yet another blow to the government's repeated attempts to
censor the Internet, a federal court today decisively rejected a law that
forces libraries to deny adults as well as minors access to constitutionally
protected speech online in order to receive federal funding.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court here agreed with arguments
made by the American Civil Liberties Union and others that blocking programs
cannot effectively screen out only material deemed "harmful to minors." The
court called the software a "blunt instrument," adding that "the problems
faced by manufacturers and vendors of filtering software are legion."
"The court today barred the government from turning librarians into thought
police armed with clumsy blocking programs," said Ann Beeson, litigation
director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program, which along with the
ACLU of Pennsylvania and other rights groups challenged the law.
"The court found that these programs are inherently flawed and will
inevitably prevent library patrons all over the country from accessing
valuable speech online," she added.
At issue is the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), a federal law
passed in December 2000 that ties crucial library funding to the mandated
use of blocking programs on Internet terminals used by both adults and
minors in public libraries. The law defines such measures as "a specific
technology that blocks or filters Internet access" such as the commercially
available blocking programs N2H2, Cyber Patrol, Websense and Smartfilter.
Based on nine days of testimony from librarians, patrons, web publishers and
experts, the court supported its ruling with over 100 pages of detailed
findings of fact, which established that "at least tens of thousands" of web
pages are wrongly blocked by the programs, including web sites for the
Knights of Columbus, a Christian orphanage in Honduras and several political
Ginnie Cooper, director of the Multnomah County Library in Oregon, the lead
plaintiff in the ACLU's lawsuit, welcomed the court's recognition that
librarians are well-versed in using their professional skills to help
patrons find what they want online and avoid Internet sites they don't want
"The court's decision affirms the importance of local control in determining
library Internet policies," she said. "No one wants children to be exposed
to pornography on the Internet, on television or anyplace else. What's
important is finding effective solutions to this problem."
As Cooper testified in March, such methods include establishing policies for
Internet usage that prohibit access to illegal content; the use of handouts,
online guides, training sessions and recommended web pages; providing
terminals with optional rather than mandatory blocking software; and the use
of wraparound privacy screens to maintain a non-threatening Internet
Any appeal of today's decision will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court,
which is required to hear challenges to this law.
The case is Multnomah County Library vs. United States of America, No.
01-CV-1322. Multnomah County and others are represented by the ACLU. The
American Library Association has filed a similar challenge on behalf of its
members, American Library Association vs. United States of America, No.
01-CV-1303. The two cases have been consolidated by the court.
Attorneys in the ACLU case are Beeson, Chris Hansen and Kevin Bankston of
the national ACLU; Stefan Presser of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; David Sobel
of the Electronic Privacy Information Center; Lee Tien of the Electronic
Frontier Foundation; Charles Sims and volunteer attorneys with the law firm
Proskauer Rose in New York City; and Tom Sponsler, Multnomah County
The decision is online at http://www.aclu.org/court/CIPA_ruling.pdf
ACLU background on the case is online at