Magazine article Information Today

Judges Find CIPA Unconstitutional

Magazine article Information Today

Judges Find CIPA Unconstitutional

Article excerpt

On May 31, just hours before its selfimposed end-of-May deadline, a three-judge panel in a federal district court in Philadelphia unanimously ruled that the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is unconstitutional. The decision came almost 2 months after the 9-day trial of a lawsuit brought jointly by the ALA, the Multnomah County (Oregon) Public Library, and the ACLU against the U.S. government. (See the April 8,2002 NewsBreak at http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb020408-l.htm.)

Enacted by Congress in December 2000, CIPA was an attempt to protect children from online pornography. Had CIPA been upheld, libraries receiving funds such as those from the E-rate program and the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) would have had to submit proof of their plans to install filtering software on all computers with Internet access by July 31.

The judges' decision hinged on the inefficacy of current filtering software. Echoing district and appellate court rulings in 1999 and 2000 for CIPA's predecessor, the Child Online Protection Act, the judges found that "commercially available filtering programs erroneously block a huge amount of speech that is protected by the First Amendment," and that the practices of filtering companies in harvesting and reviewing blocked sites result "in a substantial amount of over- and underblocking." Also, the judges ruled that present technology cannot block completely visual depictions that fit the legal definitions of obscenity, child pornography, or material harmful to minors without also blocking at least some protected speech. The panel also found that "filtering products' shortcomings will not be solved through a technical solution in the foreseeable future."

For these reasons the judges ruled, "the library plaintiffs must prevail in their contention that CIPA requires them to violate the First Amendment rights of their patrons."

Reactions to the ruling have been mixed. Librarians heralded the decision as proof that technology cannot replace the critical evaluative role that information professionals play. Following the decision, Ann Beeson, litigation director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program, stated, "The court today barred the government from turning librarians into thought police armed with clumsy blocking programs."

Since CIPA's enactment, its opponents have maintained that Internet access issues should be determined at the local level, according to community standards and individual library considerations. …

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