CIPA Decision Response: A statement from ALA President Carla D. Hayden and the ALA Executive Board

Contact: Mark Gould
PIO Director

Archived Press Release
Originally posted on July 25, 2003

July 25, 2003

The American Library Association (ALA) has a long-standing commitment to ensuring access to information for all. It advocates for a free and open information society and for equitable access to knowledge and information resources in all formats for all people.

In December 2000, Congress passed an appropriations bill that included a requirement that any library receiving federal E-Rate or Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds would be required to filter all of its Internet terminals. Because filtering blocks access to constitutionally protected speech, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) provisions were challenged by ALA, and in May 2002, a district court in Philadelphia unanimously ruled that the requirement violated the first amendment rights of library users. The government appealed this decision, and on June 23, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision ( United States v. American Library Ass'n. Inc. ). The Supreme Court ruled that the:

  • First Amendment does not prohibit Congress from forcing public libraries - as a condition of receiving federal funding - to use software filters to control what patrons and staff access online via library computers.

While ALA did not prevail in having the law declared unconstitutional, the association’s efforts yielded important and tangible benefits to libraries and library users, in that the Justices also ruled that:

  • The law is constitutional only if the mandated filters can be readily disabled upon the request of adult library users. Users do not have to explain why they are making the request.

In the wake of the CIPA decision, the priorities of the association are to:

  • Provide libraries with authoritative information regarding their choices and CIPA requirements, as they evaluate options and make decisions regarding the new legal requirements.
  • Work to minimize the negative impact of CIPA on the users of libraries that decide to continue to receive federal funds and comply with the provisions of CIPA.
  • Continue to seek to protect the First Amendment rights of library users, in accordance with policies established by the American Library Association.

In order to accomplish these goals, a variety of long and short-term efforts will be pursued by ALA, its committees, divisions and offices. These activities include:

  • Providing information on options available to libraries, including the choice of either applying or not applying for federal funds subject to CIPA provisions,
  • Providing up-to-date, accurate information on the Federal Communications Commission and the Institute for Museum and Library Services regulatory processes as the law is implemented by these agencies,
  • Working to inform and affect the regulatory process to ensure that users receive unfiltered Internet access upon request through the disabling of filtering software,
  • Working with libraries to ensure that Internet filter disabling is readily available to all adult library users as specified in the Supreme Court decision,
  • Identifying technological options that place a minimum burden on libraries that receive federal funds subject to the CIPA requirements,
  • Continuing to develop and promote alternatives to filtering, including the education of parents and children and the development of ‘child-friendly’ sites,
  • Continuing to inform and educate the public and media about issues related to Internet filtering and safety in public libraries,
  • Gathering and making available information and research on the impact of CIPA and filtering on libraries and library users, including information and research on filtering software and evaluative information for libraries selecting and using filtering software,
  • Creating a Web-based resource of informational data and anecdotal stories on CIPA and its impact,
  • Making the public aware of the negative impacts of CIPA, including imposing on libraries by imposing an unfunded Federal mandate on libraries, on the impeding the public’s access to constitutionally protected material, and on exacerbating the ‘digital divide’ by disproportionately affecting less affluent communities, minorities, children, and other disadvantaged groups,
  • Monitoring and maintaining up-to-date information on any legal actions that arise as a result of CIPA, including any lawsuits filed against libraries, and
  • Advocating with legislators to prevent further infringements upon the First Amendment rights of library users, including any additional federal and state filtering legislation, and, ultimately, to reverse existing infringements.

As the association moves forward with these activities, we will post information on the ALA Web site. Working with the library community, we will continue to explore ways to minimize the impact of the CIPA decision on libraries and to advocate for the public’s right to access constitutionally protected speech.

To begin this process, ALA President Carla D. Hayden is convening a meeting of key member leaders and staff to discuss implementation of the activities outlined above and to develop a more detailed plan for responding to the decision over the coming year. The meeting will be held on August 23, 2003, in Chicago.