ALA files lawsuit challenging CIPA

Contacts: Larra Clark/Mark Gould


ALA Archived News Release

Originally posted March 20, 2001

American Library Association files lawsuit challenging Children’s Internet Protection Act

The American Library Association (ALA) today has filed a
lawsuit in Philadelphia to overturn the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which mandates the use of blocking technology on computers in public libraries. The ALA believes this legislation is unconstitutional because it restricts access to constitutionally protected information available on the Internet at public libraries.

The legislation, introduced by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), was included in a major spending bill (HR 4577) approved by Congress on December 15. The bill requires libraries to adopt acceptable-use policies accompanied by a ‘safety technology’ that would block access to material deemed ‘harmful for minors.’ CIPA becomes effective April 20.

CIPA mandates the use of blocking technology for public libraries that seek Universal Service discounts (E-rate) for Internet access, Internet service or internal connections or that seek Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds to purchase computers for Internet access or pay for Internet access. Over the past three years, more than $190 million has been disbursed to more than 5,000 public libraries through the federal E-rate program, which provides discounts on telecommunications and Internet-related technologies.

“Forcing libraries to choose between funding and censorship means millions of library users will lose — particularly those in the most poverty-stricken and geographically isolated areas of the country,” said ALA President Nancy Kranich. “The federal government should not be subsidizing commercial filtering companies by forcing libraries to buy technology that doesn’t work.”

Libraries across the country already have in place Internet-access policies that were developed locally to meet community needs. Librarians also offer classes and programs to ensure children have an enriching and safe online experience.

A federal commission charged with studying online child protection recently concluded that no existing technologies effectively protect children from harmful material on the Internet. The commission recommended public education as the best way to provide young people with information on how to constructively access the Internet.

“Who would you trust more to guide children to quality materials . . . your librarian or an employee of a filtering company? Families have been turning to their libraries for the best information for more than a century,” Kranich said. “It is the mission of libraries to provide access to the broadest range of information for a community of diverse individuals. The vast majority of children and adults use the library responsibly and appropriately. We must ensure that they continue to have access to the materials they need to thrive in the 21st-Century information society.”

“The Internet is changing how Americans live, learn, work and interact with one another. If today’s children are to succeed in a global economy, they must learn the skills necessary to find, evaluate and use information effectively,” Kranich said.

“If the same standards used in online filters were applied to a library’s books the way they are to the Internet, our shelves would be practically empty,” Kranich added. “Filters work by spotting words, not by making judgments about decency.”

Blocking technology also does not protect children from all objectionable materials. Recent studies have shown that filters fail to block as many as one in five objectionable Web sites. “We’re concerned filters give parents a false sense of security that their children are protected, when they’re not,” Kranich added.

The ALA filed the lawsuit in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs in the suit include libraries, library users, state library associations and the Freedom to Read Foundation. People for the American Way is serving as supporting counsel.

American Civil Liberties Union also has filed
suit against CIPA today.

Links to non-ALA sites have been provided because these sites may have information of interest. The American Library Association does not necessarily endorse the views expressed or the facts presented on these sites; and furthermore, ALA does not endorse any commercial products that may be advertised or available on these sites.