Today, the City Council voted to support Assembly Bill 1793, a bill that would require state-funded libraries that provide Internet access to adopt a policy regarding access by minors by January 1, 2000.
The ACLU recognizes the importance of protecting children from harmful material but reminds libraries that they must be careful to craft policy in accordance with First Amendment principles.
The ACLU is pleased that the City Council deferred action on three other bills that would have severely restricted Internet access by children in schools and public libraries. These bills (AB 2350, H.R. 3177 and S. 1619) would require an Internet filtering system on computers in schools and libraries. These proposed bills would censor a wide-range of socially valuable, constitutionally protected speech.
ACLU Staff Attorney Peter Eliasberg commented, "Proponents of filtering software rely on a completely false premise - that filtering software only blocks obscene sites or sites that are harmful to minors. This premise is wrong. A typical filtering software product that claims to censor obscene material actually blocked the web site for the San Francisco Examiner, the Yale Biology Department, the American Society of University Women, and the Quakers, among others."
There is a second false premise here: filtering software protects minors by keeping certain information away from them. In fact, filtering software blocks web sites that target atrisk youth, that provide safe sex information, and sites aimed at lesbian and gay teenagers.
We urge City Council members to oppose the remaining three Internet filtering bills as overly broad and dangerous restrictions on information critical to teens, and remind members that filters clearly are unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment.