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Topics Covered:

bullet Activity in Kern County, CA
bullet Activity in Prince William County, VA
bullet Activity in Loudoun County, VA
bullet Activity in Nashua, NH
bullet Other court activity

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Censorship activity in Kern County, CA

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."
he added.

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."

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Censorship activity in Prince William County, VA

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 staff:

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."

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Censorship activity in Loudoun County, VA

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.

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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. 

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Other court cases:

bullet 1998-OCT: Livermore CA: Lack of censorship at a library: A "Kathleen R" sued the City of Livermore twice. In 1998-OCT, the Ms. R characterized the library's open Internet policy a public nuisance. Apparently, her son had used the library Internet connection without her permission or supervision. This case was dismissed. She subsequently filed an amended complaint in which she claimed a constitutional right to force the city library to abandon its open access policy and restrict access to the Internet. 2 Both suits were dismissed by the Alameda County Superior Court. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief in support of the library. 3 ACLU staff attorney, Ann Brick commented: "The court's ruling today sets an important precedent for libraries in California and across the nation...By upholding the Library's open access policy, the court not only vindicates the judgment of the library board in adopting the policy, it  vindicates the First Amendment values on which the policy rests."

The library informs people that some material on the Internet is controversial, that the library is not responsible for its content, and that parent have the responsibility of monitoring their children on the Net.

bullet 2000-AUG-15: Virginia: Injunction issued against Internet censorship law: A Virginia state law would have outlawed materials that are "harmful to juveniles" on the Internet. Certain writings and images which are protected by the constitution when viewed by adults would be banned from the Internet because they are not suitable for viewing by children. This is the latest attempt by a state legislature to censor the Internet; similar laws have been passed by Congress, Michigan, New Mexico and New York state. All have been struck down by federal courts. These laws seem to have been written and passed by legislators who have a total lack of understanding of how the Internet works. The Internet is organized so that anyone can make material available to the world, and anyone else can access it. Webmasters and Internet Service Providers have no idea of the age of the individuals who access web sites. So, a law which bans material that might harm children could only be applied if all of the web sites in the world that are not suitable for child surfers were removed. That is beyond the jurisdiction of any single state or country. 

The injunction was sought by People For the American Way Foundation (PFAW), PSINet Inc, 16 E-businesses and others. Ralph G. Neas, president of PFAW commented: "We've fought mandatory Internet censorship before. There are many voluntary options available to parents who worry about the Internet content available to their children. The important word missing from the language of this law is: 'voluntary'." 4
bullet 1999-FALL: Voters in Holland, MI, rejected an Internet filtering ballot initiative promoted by conservative Christian organizations.

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Related link:

bullet Laws restricting Internet content

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  1. B.A. Masters & D. Nakamura, "Library's Internet Filtering is Barred," The Washington Post, 1998-NOV-24. See:
  2. "Court Upholds Livermore Library's Uncensored Internet Access Policy," News release, American Civil Liberty Union, 1999-JAN-14.
  3. The ACLU's amicus brief in the Livermore case is at:
  4. The Memorandum Opinion in PSINet v. Chapman concerning the Virginia censorship law can be read online at: 

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Copyright  1998 to 2002 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2002-sep-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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