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ACLU calls for end to Net filtering in libraries

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will today (25 September) argue that an Internet law that requires libraries to install Net filtering measures on public computers is unconstitutional and violates citizens' rights to free speech.

The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was passed by Congress in December 2000 with the aim of protecting children from obscene and potentially harmful material on the Net, such as pornography. However, plaintiffs in the suit claim that CIPA's Internet filtering provision restricts free speech and the ability to conduct research and deepens the digital divide by giving those who can afford Internet access at home wider access to information than those who can only afford to access the Net at libraries.

According to the ACLU there are more than 16,000 public libraries in the US, 95% of which provide Internet access. Under CIPA, libraries that participate in certain federal programs must install filtering measures on all their Internet access terminals, regardless of whether federal funding was used to pay for the computers and Internet access.

Beyond free speech concerns, the New York-based civil liberties organisation is expected to argue that many Web site blocking programs are ineffective, often barring sites that are not harmful to children, and that the filtering is contrary to the democratic mission of public libraries.

The ACLU is representing a handful of libraries, library associations and private citizens in the case, which is due to go before a three-judge panel appointed by Philadelphia's Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Any appeal against the panel's decision will go directly to the US Supreme Court, which is required to hear challenges to the law.

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