State Supreme Court upholds public libraries' policy on Web filtering
The Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that public libraries can use Internet filters to block content.
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Public libraries' refusal to disable content-blocking Internet filters for adult patrons does not run afoul of the state constitution, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In a 6-3 ruling, the majority said libraries have discretion about which Internet content to allow, just as they decide which magazines and books to offer.
"A public library can decide that it will not include pornography and other adult materials in its collection in accord with its mission and policies and, as explained, no unconstitutionality necessarily results," wrote the majority, led by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. "It can make the same choices about Internet access."
Justices Susan Owens, Charles Johnson, Mary Fairhurst and Gerry Alexander signed on in agreement.
Justice Jim Johnson wrote a separate opinion, agreeing with the majority conclusion but saying the focus of the reasoning should be on scarcity of resources that libraries deal with, which allows them to filter materials for their collections.
The majority said libraries, while not completely removing Internet filters, can provide access to individual websites containing constitutionally protected speech if requested by an adult.
The majority cited heavily from a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. American Library Association, which upheld the 2000 Children's Internet Protection Act. That act requires public libraries to install Internet filters to receive federal money.
Four justices in that 6-3 majority said the law did not violate First Amendment free-speech, and two others said it was allowable as long as libraries disable the filters for adult patrons who ask.
Justice Tom Chambers said in his dissent Thursday that under the First Amendment, "the library's filtering policy is at best doubtful and, I predict, will be struck down."
Chambers, joined by Justices Richard Sanders and Debra Stephens, argued that the majority's ruling in the Washington state case restricts constitutionally protected speech. Chambers wrote that censoring material on the Internet is not the same as declining to purchase a particular book.
The case was sparked by a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington in 2006 against the five-county North Central Regional Library District in Eastern Washington.
The library district, which receives federal money, has filters that block pornography along with content about computer hacking and gambling, among other topics.
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