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ACLU, ALA challenge measure protecting children on Internet

WASHINGTON (BP)–The American Library Association and the ACLU filed suit March 20 to strike down a federal law requiring public libraries that receive government Internet discounts to install filters on their computers to combat pornography.

Pro-family organizations announced they would work to defend the law in court.

The ALA and ACLU challenged the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in a federal court in Philadelphia. The case may be on a fast track to the U.S. Supreme Court. In this case, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will deliver a decision, and the Supreme Court will review any appeal.

CIPA mandates libraries and public schools that receive a government subsidy for Internet access install technology to screen out obscenity and child pornography on all computers and soft-core porn and other harmful material on those used by children. Congress adopted the measure as part of the omnibus appropriations bill passed in mid-December last year. Sens. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and Ernest Hollings, D.-S.C., were the lead sponsors. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission supported the measure.

In its suit, the ACLU charged the government with censorship. It “is choking off the free flow of information on the Internet to the library patrons who need it the most,” ACLU lawyer Ann Beeson said in a written release. The ACLU argued the law would increase the division between the “haves,” those who can afford Internet access in their homes, and the “have-nots,” those who do not have access at home. It also contended the law is unworkable because filters block material that is not prohibited.

The American Center for Law and Justice denied the law violates the First Amendment.

“Libraries and public schools have a compelling interest to protect the physical and psychological well-being of children,” ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a written statement. “The use of Internet filtering software as required by [CIPA] is a reasonable and constitutional way to protect children from online pornography.”

Jane LaRue of the Family Research Council acknowledged filters are not perfect.

“Blocking of constitutionally protected material can happen, but it isn’t fatal or terminal,” LaRue said in a written release. “Wrongly blocked sites can be unblocked in a couple of minutes on user-based software and within 24 hours on server-based technology. If the book you want at the local library is checked out, you may have to wait two weeks to get it.”

Alternatives such as privacy screens and tap-on-the-shoulder policies are ineffective, LaRue said.

“These feeble policies are examples of closing the barn door after the horse has left — after the exposure to illegal and harmful porn happens,” she said. “No privacy screen can eradicate from a child’s mind the images of sex with animals, sex with excretory functions, sex and torture, rape and child rape.

“Because of the policies of the [ALA], public libraries with unrestricted Internet access are virtual peep shows open to kids and funded by taxpayers.”

The ACLJ and FRC plan to file briefs to defend CIPA.

A FRC report last year documented 539 incidents in public libraries where children were exposed to pornography and inappropriate materials and 106 incidents in which adults exposed children to porn. There also were reports of adults and minors masturbating at computer terminals and attempts by adults at molestation. Only 29 percent of the public library systems responded to the FRC survey, though nearly all were contacted with Freedom of Information Act requests.

The ACLU’s clients in its suit include the Multhomah County (Ore.) Public Library and other library systems, plus the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a leading abortion rights organization, and Planetout.com, a website on homosexual, bisexual and transgendered issues. People for the American Way, a left-wing civil liberties groups, filed with ALA in its suit.
(BP) file photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: KIDS’ SAFETY and COMPUTER FILTERING.