CIPA remarks by John W. Berry

John W. Berry
President-elect, American Library Association, 2000–2001
On ALA vs. United States
Challenge to the Children’s Internet Protection Act

Good morning. I am John W. Berry, President-elect of the American Library Association and I’ll moderate this morning’s press conference. We’ll proceed this way. Each participant will make a short statement addressing a different aspect of this morning’s court filing; when all speakers have finished, we’ll open things up for your quesions.

Let me introduce my colleagues here at the podium. Theresa Chmara is an attorney in the Washington D.C. office of Jenner and Block; Ms. Chmara prepared the filing on behalf of ALA and its co-plaintiffs. Elliot Mincberg will speak on behalf of The People for the American Way. Iris Newman is President of the Friends of the Library, Philadelphia City Institute Library and William R. Gordon is Executive Director of the 61,000 member American Library Association headquartered in Chicago.

On Christmas day, 1820, a 77-year old Thomas Jefferson wrote these words from Monticello to his friend Thomas Ritchie: “But I am far from presuming to direct the reading of my fellow citizens, who are good enough judges themselves of what is worthy of their reading.”

It is appropriate that we assemble here in Philadelphia, the Founders city, to reaffirm our support for the constitutional rights of all Americans to “be good enough judges themselves of what is worthy of their reading” or of their religious practice, or of their speaking.

This morning, the American Library Association with the Freedom to Read Foundation and 9 other plaintiffs, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania challenging the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) signed into law on December 21st of last year.

Former President Clinton, upon signing the funding bill that included CIPA as a “rider,” expressed his disappointment with the legislation: “I believe that local development of an Internet-acceptable use plan is a more effective solution than mandatory filtering for ensuring comprehensive protection while meeting the diverse needs of local schools and libraries.”

Let us be clear about several things:

  • This act imposes unprecedented, sweeping Federal speech restrictions on public libraries across the nation.
  • Filters are contrary to the mission of the public library, which is to provide access to the broadest range of information for a community of diverse individuals. Filters block access to critical, constitutionally protected speech related to many subject areas. Filters have been shown to block access to medical information, political information and information related to the arts and literature.
  • Librarians care deeply about children. Libraries already have policies and programs to ensure children have an enriching and safe online experience. More than 95 percent of public libraries have Internet-use policies that were created with community input and local control, and they offer classes on how to use the Internet to get good information.

In our libraries, we find kids use the Internet the same way they use other library services. They work on homework assignments, read about sports, music and other interests, and communicate with their friends. The vast majority of children and adults continue to use the library responsibly and appropriately.

The American Library Association believes strongly that the Children’s Internet Protection Act is unconstitutional. The filtering mandate imposed by Congress is unworkable in the context of a public institution because it restricts access to constitutionally protected speech on the users served by libraries. No filtering or blocking technology exists that blocks access only to speech that is obscene, child pornography or harmful to minors. And no filtering technology protects children from all objectionable materials. many of you will have seen the March issue of Consumer Reports evaluating several filtering software products; the best of the products failed to block one objectionable site in five.

We’re concerned that filters give parents a false sense of security that their children are protected when they are not. Not all problems brought on by transformative technological innovation, like the Internet, have technological solutions, at least in the short term. We believe that education is more effective than filters—kids need to make good decisions about what they read and view, no matter where they are. To be sure, this is a collaborative effort between parents, teachers, librarians and many others.

The Children’s Internet Protection Act is a misnomer. The legislation does not strictly limit access for minors, but for adults and all Internet users in a library.

And finally, the act allows for unblocking specific Web sites if a user can demonstrate a “bona fide research or other lawful purpose”—both of which are left undefined. We do not believe that library staff should be put in the position of deciding what is “legitimate” or “objectionable” on a case-by-case basis.

CIPA is, in short, unworkable and fundamentally misguided.