Library Group, ACLU Fight Net Filter

By Glanz, William | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 20, 2000 | Go to article overview

Library Group, ACLU Fight Net Filter


Glanz, William, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Opponents of a congressional measure requiring schools and libraries to install software to filter pornographic Internet content plan to challenge the measure in court.

The filtering amendment was attached to a spending bill that Congress passed Friday and is expected to be approved by President Clinton, perhaps as soon as this week.

But opponents of the measure say the filters will block sites with constitutionally protected language because the technology behind them can't always distinguish between pornographic Web pages and legitimate sites.

"We are looking into what our legal remedies might be," said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the Washington office of the American Library Association.

Both the ALA and the American Civil Liberties Union have threatened to challenge the Children's Internet Protection Act in court. The social conservative group Free Congress Foundation also joined critics in opposing the measure - creating a diverse alliance - because the amendment would override local laws with a federal mandate.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, introduced the filtering measure and, expecting a fight, included language allowing a quick legal review.

"Senator McCain fully anticipated a challenge by the ACLU and the ALA," said David Crane, a Republican staff member of the Senate Commerce Committee chaired by Mr. McCain.

The first challenge will be brought in Federal District Court, and any appeal of that decision would go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill requires schools and libraries that receive federal technology funding to block objectionable material on the Internet by installing and using filtering software.

Rob Courtney, policy analyst at the civil liberties group the Center for Democracy and Technology, said filters are imperfect and block protected speech.

One filter blocked the American Family Association Web site because it contained language about the group's opposition to homosexuality, even though the group's point of view is not indecent and the language is constitutionally protected.

Even so, the AFA supports filtering technology and Mr. McCain's amendment mandating the practice.

"Filtering is not a precise technology, but if you find it's blocking a site on breast cancer, for instance, all you have to do is send an e-mail [to the company providing the filtering software] and get it fixed. …

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