November 17, 2006

ACLU(WA) Sues Library Over Refusing To Disable Censorware For Adults

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, three library users and a nonprofit organization today brought suit to ensure that patrons of a library system in Eastern Washington have access to useful and lawful information on the Internet. The lawsuit challenges the library system's policy of using a restrictive Internet filter to bar access to information on its computers and of refusing to honor requests by adult patrons to temporarily disable the filter for sessions of uncensored reading and research. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane. ...

The North Central Regional Library District (NCRL) operates 28 community libraries in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, and Okanogan Counties. The NCRL has used a blocking software product called SmartFilter, Bess edition, manufactured by the California-based company Secure Computing Corporation, to filter Internet content on all public computers at its branch libraries. Bess blocks a very broad array of lawful information, and the NCRL has refused to unblock sites for patrons. ...

Libraries that receive funds for Internet access under two specific federal programs are required to have the ability to block minors from seeing "visual depictions" of sexual activity. But the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the law to mean that libraries should disable those filters upon the request of an adult. The ACLU believes that the NCRL filtering policy goes far beyond what is allowed under federal law.

[full text of complaint]

It's not irony, given that this is about adults being about to turn off censorware in a public library. But still, given the tendency of COPA to have the ACLU "talk-up" censorware, and that this lawsuit (by a different ACLU division) will "talk-down" censorware, there could be some press confusion. So it's still a bit of a surprise that this lawsuit was announced while the trial for the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) is still taking place.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 17, 2006 06:38 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Thought criminals are the new vampires.

It behoves us to prevent publicly provided facilities such as libraries from providing them with the means to drain the lifeblood from their victims.

A predisposition to superstition has not been eliminated from our DNA.

Only education can overcome superstition.

We must provide public libraries to people who've missed out...

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at November 17, 2006 09:54 AM

I don't think there's much of a contradiction here. In the Washington lawsuit, they're arguing that blocking software is overbroad, as they did in the (unsuccessful) lawsuit against the Children's Internet Protection Act.

But in the Child Online Protection Act lawsuit, as far as I've seen in the transcripts, two things stand out: (1) they are arguing that no matter how effective blocking software is at stopping porn, COPA is clearly a lot *less* effective, and (2) they are not disputing the fact that blocking software is overbroad. So I don't think they're contradicting themselves.

Posted by: Bennett Haselton at November 17, 2006 07:18 PM

It's not a immediate contradiction, and I didn't use that word. But, there's second-order effects which are problematic, what I called "talk-up" vs "talk-down".

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 19, 2006 05:14 PM