The First Amendment's Limitations on the Use of Internet Filtering in Public and School Libraries
Posted: 10 Oct 1998
Date Written: October 1998
This article asserts that the First Amendment permits libraries to use private-sector software filters to control what can be viewed on their Internet terminals as long as the filters do not represent an effort to discriminate against offending viewpoints. It contends that librarians may use filters to ensure that their patrons can efficiently use the library's limited resources -- computer terminals and Internet links -- to gain access to the categories of content that the librarians choose to include in their collections. Thus, libraries may seek to maximize terminal availability for "research" by blocking access to "disfavored" websites, such as those offering shopping services or play-by-play updates of sporting events. Libraries may also use filters to empower parents to diminish their children's access to adult material. It appears, however, that the First Amendment requires that libraries using filters 1) retain "final say" over selection decisions, 2) know the criteria that the filter uses to exclude content, and 3) have the resources to correct the viewpoint discrimination that filters are likely to generate.
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