ALA

Statement on Library Use of Filtering Software

American Library Association
Intellectual Freedom Committee

On June 26, 1997, the United States Supreme Court in Reno, Attorney General of the United States, et al. v. American Civil Liberties Union, et al., issued a sweeping reaffirmation of core First Amendment principles and held that communications over the Internet deserve the highest level of Constitutional protection.

The Court’s most fundamental holding was that communications on the Internet deserve the same level of Constitutional protection as books, magazines, newspapers, and speakers on a street corner soapbox. The Court found that the Internet “constitutes a vast platform from which to address and hear from a world-wide audience of millions of readers, viewers, researchers, and buyers,” and that “any person with a phone line can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox.”

For libraries, the most critical holding of the Supreme Court is that libraries that make content available on the Internet can continue to do so with the same Constitutional protections that apply to the books on libraries’ shelves. The Court’s conclusion that “the vast democratic fora of the Internet” merit full constitutional protection serves to protect libraries that provide their patrons with access to the Internet. The Court recognized the importance of enabling individuals to receive speech from the entire world and to speak to the entire world. Libraries provide those opportunities to many who would not otherwise have them. The Supreme Court’s decision protects that access.

The use in libraries of software filters to block constitutionally protected speech is inconsistent with the United States Constitution and federal law and may lead to legal exposure for the library and its governing authorities. The American Library Association affirms that the use of filtering software by libraries to block access to constitutionally protected speech violates the Library Bill of Rights.

WHAT IS BLOCKING/FILTERING SOFTWARE?

Blocking/filtering software is a mechanism used to:

PROBLEMS WITH THE USE OF BLOCKING/FILTERING SOFTWARE IN LIBRARIES

WHAT CAN YOUR LIBRARY DO TO PROMOTE ACCESS TO THE INTERNET?


ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee
July 1, 1997; Rev. November 17, 2000


For further information on this topic, contact the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom at 800/545-2433, ext. 4223, by fax at (312) 280-2447, or by e-mail at oif@ala.org.




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