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Free Speech and the Internet No. 214

Adopted 1999
Amended 2000
Reaffirmed 2001
Revised 2002
Amended 2003
Reaffirmed 2004
Amended 2005
Amended 2006
Reaffirmed 2007

Censoring the Internet is seen by some to be the solution to many of America's problems.

When the Supreme Court struck down the Communication Decency Act, Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act, which requires libraries with federally-funded Internet access to install content filters that block anything considered "harmful to minors." While the Act is designed to protect children from sexual content, even adult library users must obtain permission to get unfiltered Internet access.

Random acts of violence such as the shootings in Columbine, Colorado, or Jonesboro, Arkansas, cannot be averted by installing a filtering device on every computer likely to be used by a teenager, nor should such incidents be used to substitute government censorship for parental responsibility.

The examples of materials blocked by such software are notorious, including sites about Mars Exploration, Super Bowl XXX, and sextants.

Chief Justice Rehnquist, joined by Justices O'Connor, Thomas, and Scalia cited the library's need for "broad discretion" to provide "suitable and worthwhile material" for patrons. However, the Act imposes a mandate on all libraries that accept federal funding and thus takes discretion away from libraries. Thus, the American Library Association challenged the Act in court.

Justice Breyer in a concurring opinion said that getting a librarian to unblock a computer is not unduly burdensome, even though the process may take a day or a week. Users who experience a blocked site will have to make appointments to get to an unfiltered computer, and librarians will have to keep date books.

ADA opposes government-mandated software that filters and monitors the use of the Internet by library patrons.

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No. 214

Political and Governmental Commission