The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has become active in the field of
blocking software. They are attempting to have internet filters removed from computers in
public libraries and other locations which are accessible by the public.
They sent a warning to Kern County, CA circa 1998-JAN-20 that the ACLU would take legal
action if the County officials did not remove Internet filtering software from public
library computers within 10 days. On 1998-JAN-26 they followed up with a request to county
libraries to "Please unfilter your terminals immediately!" The county
legal counsel responded quickly with a new policy to provide access to both unfiltered and
filtered computers by their adult and minor library patrons. No parental consent will be
required for minors to access unfiltered computers.
Ann Beeson, ACLU National Staff Attorney, said: "We applaud the Board of
Supervisor's decision to honor the First Amendment rights of Kern County citizens by
changing its library Internet access policy to allow all adult and minor patrons to decide
for themselves whether to access the Internet with or without a filter." Peter
Eliasberg, attorney with the ACLU of Southern California said: "The
County made the right decision, and I'm sure we are all relieved that this issue has been
resolved swiftly and without a lengthy and costly legal battle...Kern County now
joins libraries in Santa Clara County and in San Jose, among others, in deciding to be
providers of information, not censors."
The ACLU press release commented on a library in Loudon County, Virginia which is
currently facing a legal challenge from local library patrons. "The ACLU is
considering an intervention in that lawsuit on behalf of online speakers who are blocked
from reaching library patrons".
Ann Brick, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California commented." Libraries
are our nation's storehouses of knowledge. Their mission is to make that knowledge
available to young and old alike. Filters are fundamentally antithetical to that mission."
Their library board rejected by a vote of 7 to 3 a proposal to install filtering
software in county libraries. They seem to prefer to have censorship done locally by
Library Director Dick Murphy said: "We'll leave it up to the adults what
materials they want to look at, but the staff has the right to determine what is
appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a public setting...So if someone brings up a
[sexually] graphic kind of site that is causing a disturbance or it is clear to the staff
that it will potentially cause a disturbance, they will step in."
The Virginia chapter of The American Civil Liberties Union said that such
action would be unconstitutional.
ACLU chapter director, Kent Willis, said "It's unfair for the person using the
computer and for the employee who has to apply such a vague policy...People's view of what
is acceptable and unacceptable vary greatly. If a majority doesn't like a book, we don't
allow them to censor that book. The First Amendment is very clear that you have the right
to that information."
Jeri McGiverin, president of Mainstream Loudoun, brought a lawsuit against the
Loudoun County Public Library. The library had decided to place X-Stop filtering
software on their computers so that any material that might be harmful to minors could not
be accessed. 1 U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in
Alexandria VA found that this violated constitutional rights to free speech without any
compelling government interest. Ironically, the judge is a former librarian. L.S.
Ottinger, an attorney for the People for the American Way Foundation commented:
"This is a landmark decision for the public libraries and mainstream citizens who
want to decide for themselves what they want to read." Jeri McGiverin "Now
the Library Board members need to get rid of their political agendas and adopt a better
policy. The old policy established censorship, and that's very dangerous. Citizens must
have access to full information so they have the ability to be well informed from all
viewpoints." Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties
Union of Virginia, commented: "The judge is giving full First Amendment protection to the Internet. She is also reminding us
of the importance of libraries and why they have to be protected."
The software censorship program was advertised to block only obscene material. In fact
it also blocked the websites owned by the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner,
and the Maryland affiliate of the American Association of University Women.
Censorship activity in Nashua, NH:
The Nashua Public Library Board of Trustees had voted to install
Surfwatch software on all computers in their libraries. The First
Amendment Legal Defense Fund, a group of local citizens "opposed
to the library's unconstitutionally broad and restrictive policy,"
contacted the People for the American Way Foundation and some New
England lawyers. They threatened to sue the library board unless it
rescinded its decision. "The software blocks information in five
broad categories, which include violence; sexually explicit material; hate
speech; drugs/alcohol/tobacco; and gambling...Some websites blocked by
Surfwatch at the Nashua library included a New York Times story on
real-life television, a religious article on the revelation of God through
the birth of Jesus, and a University of Washington scientific abstract on
frogs - apparently because the abstract included the word 'sex.' "
On 2000-AUG-16, the board unanimously voted to rescind the policy. They
will retain the software on one computer in the children's section, but
remove it on other public-access computers in the library.