Identified only as "Kathleen R" in court documents, the woman, along with a religious group, filed the complaint after she claimed her 12-year-old son was able to use the Livermore Public Library computers to repeatedly download pornographic images. Kathleen R argued that the library should have had screening software installed on computers to curb children's access to pornography.
Today, however, Alameda County Superior Court judge George Hernandez dismissed the complaint, without a detailed explanation, marking a victory for the city and the American Civil Liberties Union, which supported the fight.
"It's a very important decision not only for the Livermore Public Library, but for libraries across the state and potentially across the nation," Ann Brick, a staff attorney for ACLU of Northern California, said today.
"This decision establishes the validity of open Internet access policies," she added. "The Constitution prohibits libraries from censoring Internet access."
The ruling is the second victory for open Internet access at libraries this year. In November, a federal judge ruled that the Loudoun County Library in Virginia had violated the Constitution by installing Internet filters on all of its computers.
Loudoun County is not expected to appeal the decision, but Kathleen R will continue the fight.
"We will appeal it," said Michael Millen, the attorney for Kathleen R and the Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento-based nonprofit legal defense organization specializing in religious freedom and parents' rights.
"We believe the Appeals Court is better equipped to analyze the complex constitutional issues at stake here," he added. "Government employees have a duty to not infringe on the constitutional rights of children to be free of harm. Providing obscene material to a minor is harmful."
The Livermore Library had considered filtering Net access in its three branches and in February 1997, like many other libraries across the country, decided against the plan. The judge's decision today affirmed the library officials' choice.
"The library board agonized a long time before we put the policy in place, and ultimately decided this was the most appropriate and fair policy," said Susan Gallinger, director of library services for Livermore. "We've had the access for more than two years and it's very popular. We encourage parents to work with their children--it's not the library's responsibility to police."