ACLU wins landmark library censorship case
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 21 Apr 98 01:31:36 -0700
Subject: ACLU wins landmark library censorship case
Forwarded-by: "m.b.komor" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: "Glenn R. Stone" <email@example.com>
Excerpted-from: PRIVACY Forum Digest 19 April 1998 Vol 07 : Issue 07
Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.
===== PRIVACY FORUM =====
[ ... ]
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998 02:30:02 -0400
From: Monty Solomon <monty@roscom.COM>
Subject: Judge Sets Highest Legal Hurdle For Using
Blocking Software in Libraries
Excerpt from ACLU News 04-07-98
Judge Sets Highest Legal Hurdle
For Using Blocking Software in Libraries
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, April 7, 1998
ALEXANDRIA, VA -- In the first major ruling on the use of Internet blocking
software in libraries, a federal district judge today forcefully rejected
a government motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the use of such
software in public libraries in Loudoun County, Virginia.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia, which represent
a diverse group of eight Internet speakers seeking to reach library patrons,
hailed the ruling as one of the strongest ever defenses of online free
"We are thrilled that the judge in this case, a former librarian, recognized
the Internet as the ultimate library resource," said Ann Beeson, an ACLU
staff attorney who appeared before the court.
"Every member of every library board considering an Internet-blocking policy
ought to read the judge's ruling," said Kent Willis, Executive Director of
the ACLU of Virginia. "It will remind them of why we have libraries and why
an unfettered Internet serves the fundamental purpose of libraries better
than any invention since the printing press."
In a 36-page decision issued earlier today, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia said that the
government had "misconstrued the nature of the Internet" and held that "the
Library Board may not adopt and enforce content-based restrictions on access
to protected Internet speech."
Calling public libraries places of "freewheeling and independent inquiry,"
Judge Brinkema quoted extensively from Reno v. ACLU, the landmark Supreme
Court decision on Internet free speech, noting that the Court "analogized
the Internet to a 'vast library including millions of readily available and
indexed publications,' the content of which 'is as diverse as human
The court today also rejected the notion that the use of blocking software
can be considered analogous to a librarian selecting certain materials,
noting that Internet publications "exist only in 'cyberspace,'" and do not
"take up shelf space or require physical maintenance of any kind."
Nor do such publications cost money, the judge said, noting that in fact,
"it costs a library more to restrict the content of its collection by means
of blocking software than it does for the library to offer unrestricted
access to all Internet publications."
Beeson said that although the case will still go forward, the unequivocal
language of the ruling gave the government a very high burden to meet in
its defense of the blocking policy.
"Blocking software is nothing more than CDA in a box," Beeson said. "With
today's ruling, the court correctly applied the same level of First
Amendment scrutiny that the Supreme Court used in rejecting the CDA."
Beeson also said that the ruling should serve as a strong deterrent to
recent efforts in Congress to mandate the use of blocking software in public
schools and libraries.
In a unanimous voice vote last month, the Senate Commerce Committee passed
the Internet School Filtering Act, a bill that requires all public libraries
and schools that receive federal funds for Internet access to use blocking
software. Urging against the policy, the ACLU said in a letter to the
Committee that "the government may not condition federal funding on
unconstitutional requirements," emphasizing that "parents and teachers, not
the government, should provide minors with guidance about accessing the
In the Loudoun case, the national ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia intervened
in the lawsuit on behalf of a diverse group of speakers outside of the
county -- and even outside the United States -- who want to reach their
intended worldwide audience, including library patrons in Loudoun County.
The ACLU's plaintiffs are:
-- The Safer Sex Page, created by John Troyer. -- Banned Books Online,
created by John Ockerbloom. -- American Association of University Women
Maryland (AAUW Maryland). -- Rob Morse, an award-winning columnist for the
San Francisco Examiner. -- Books for Gay and Lesbian Teens Youth Page,
created by 18-year-old Jeremy Myers. -- Sergio Arau, the popular Mexican
artist and rock singer known as "El Padrino." -- Renaissance Transgender
Association, a group serving the transgendered community. -- The Ethical
Spectacle, created by Jonathan Wallace.
In its complaint, the ACLU said that the library's Internet policy purports
to block access to materials that are "pornographic" or "harmful to
juveniles." But the ACLU's complaint charges that by using blocking software
to implement the policy, the library board is in fact "removing books from
the shelves" of the Internet with value to both adults and minors in
violation of the Constitution.
In objecting to the block on their clients' speech, the ACLU's complaint
noted that websites offering opposing views are not blocked. "For example,
Defendants do not block sites opposing homosexuality and transgender
behavior, opposing employment by women outside the home, favoring Internet
censorship, and promoting abstinence rather than safer sex practices."
Representing the ACLU's clients are national ACLU lawyers Ann Beeson, Chris
Hansen and Marjorie Heins, and Mary Bauer, Legal Director of the ACLU of
Complete information on the intervention, including the ACLU's
complaint, links to plaintiffs' web pages, and related cyber-law cases, can
be found on the ACLU Freedom Network at
© 1998 Peter Langston