Riding the coattails of the Supreme Court's historic rejection of the Communications Decency Act, the American Library Association has adopted a resolution against the use of filtering software in libraries.
The ALA determined in a July 2 resolution that software filters can block free speech and are therefore inconsistent with constitutional provisions. According to the ALA's library bill of rights, "materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation."
Libraries have been the target of nationwide campaigns to limit access to online smut or indecent material, often requiring that branches install content filtering software. But these programs have also been known to block constitutionally protected sexual, medical, or artistic content that can easily be found in other media.
Ann Beeson, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ALA's past stance was that parents should make decisions on what their view over the Internet. The adopted resolution "is absolutely consistent with what all parties agreed upon when arguing the CDA decision," she added.
The ALA served as a lead plaintiff in the case against the CDA and has consistently opposed restrictions on online speech. However, during the Supreme Court's hearings on the case, the organization argued that blocking technology was less restrictive than government intervention.
Judith Krug, director for the ALA's office for intellectual freedom, said the committee put off having the ALA board vote on the resolution until after the court's CDA ruling. "I think the CDA decision in effect said, 'Intellectual freedom, you are right on track; go for it.'"
She added: "The whole thing is about empowering individuals to make their own choices. I don't know whose family values I would program in the computer. If I have 20 families, do I set 20 different sets of values?"
The resolution does not mean that libraries will be without blocking software. Librarians who are members of the ALA can follow its guidelines, but decisions for local libraries are made by the branches themselves, according to Krug.
Conservative groups were quick to criticize the ALA's resolution, however. Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, said libraries should encourage reading and learning, which can be helped along by the Internet.
But "the mission of the libraries is not to provide every citizen access to every piece of information on Earth," he added.
The ALA's decision against filtering software comes as Congress considers bills favoring use of filtering software or requiring it from Internet service providers. These include the Childsafe Internet Act, which will be introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington). While the ALA did not mention these bills, Krug said the organization is launching a campaign to educate people about the Internet.