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Federal Trial Starts On Internet Filtering Law

Press Release
Nathan Richter or Tracy Duckett
PFAW Foundation
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A trial to determine the constitutionality of a law that forces public libraries to require the use of filtering software on all computers or lose federal funding for library technology begins Monday before a three-judge federal district court in Philadelphia.
People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) and the law firm Jenner & Block filed the lawsuit against the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) on behalf of the American Library Association, other library associations, and library patrons. The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a lawsuit challenging CIPA. The lawsuits have been consolidated for trial before the court.

The trial starts at 9:15 a.m. on March 25 in Judge Harvey Bartle’s courtroom at the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse at 601 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pa. PFAWF Senior Staff Attorney Larry Ottinger will attend Monday’s opening trial date.

CIPA, which Congress passed in 2000, would block federal technology grants for public libraries unless they install filters to keep children from accessing Internet material deemed "obscene," "child pornography," or "harmful to minors." Libraries have until July of this year to comply with the law. Any appeal of the three-judge panel’s decision will go straight to the Supreme Court.

CIPA subverts the First Amendment, PFAWF contends, by requiring libraries that need federal grants to upgrade computer equipment and provide access to the Internet to use filtering software that would block all kinds of constitutionally protected speech for adults as well as children.

Since 1996, PFAWF has worked with other civil rights groups to challenge and defeat federal and state government attempts to improperly regulate use of the Internet. PFAWF and other free speech advocacy groups successfully challenged Congress’ first attempt to muzzle speech on the Internet – called the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The Supreme Court in 1997 invalidated the CDA provision as a violation of the First Amendment. PFAWF along with the Washington D.C., law firm of Hogan & Hartson challenged in federal court a Virginia county’s law requiring filtering of all public library computers and won a historic decision from the federal court. In that case, the district court in 1998 fully applied First Amendment principles in striking down the law, concluding that filtering software was unable to distinguish legal from illegal materials and that public libraries could not impinge upon adults’ free speech rights. In another federal court case, PSINet Inc., v. Chapman, PFAWF is working with the D.C. law firm of Wiley, Rein & Fielding and other constitutional rights groups to overturn a Virginia statewide law criminalizing Internet content. The federal district judge has issued a permanent injunction blocking the law from taking effect. The case is pending in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.