Saturday, November 25, 2006

Eastern WA Library System Sued Over Refusal To Disable Filters

In the first lawsuit filed over a library's refusal to disable Internet filters for adults wishing to access constitutionally-protected speech, three library users and a nonprofit organization advocating Second Amendment rights have sued the North Central Regional Library District (NCRL), based in Wenatchee in Eastern Washington. Several other libraries nationally follow policies similar to those alleged in the lawsuit. In the Washington case, the plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. The American Library Assocation (ALA) is not a part of the lawsuit "at this point," said Judith Krug, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. "I knew that ACLU has been looking for a lawsuit ever since we got the decision" on the Children's Internet Protection Act, which requires filtering as a condition for E-rate discounts. ALA advises libraries that, under the court decision and the government's interpretation of the statute, they should disable the filters upon requests by adults.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane, charges that NCRL configures SmartFilter, Bess edition, to block numerous categories of Internet content, including "Alcohol, Anonymizers, Chat, Criminal Skills, Dating/Social, Drugs, Extreme, Gambling, Game/Cartoon Violence, Gruesome Content, Hacking, Hate Speech, Malicious Sites, Nudity, P2P/File Sharing, Personal Pages, Phishing, Pornography, Profanity, School Cheating Information, Sexual Materials, Spyware, Tobacco, Violence, Visual Search Engine and Weapon." One plaintiff has tried to research youth tobacco usage for academic research, while others have tried to research health topics and firearms. NCRL director Dean Marney told the AP that the library system had changed its filtering software and allows sites to be unblocked. Responding to a question from LJ, he cited a March/April 2005 article from Public Libraries, which stated, "The law gives librarians the option of disabling these filters if an adult patron specifically requests that they be turned off under specific circumstances, but the law does not require that such requests be granted." He added, "The North Central Regional Library is a rural library district with 28 mostly small town branches. We make every attempt to treat the Internet as we would any other area of our collection. The Board of Trustees has adopted an Internet Use Policy that adheres to CIPA, uses common sense, and reflects community expectations." Given that the law, as applied, has never been evaluated in court, that issue will be up to a judge.

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