Fed court to reexamine library web filters
Thursday, October 6, 2011
RICHLAND — Central Washington’s library system will head back to federal court Oct. 25 to further argue its filtering of public Internet access.
The hearing in Richland before U.S. District Court Judge Edward F. Shea will consider motions left dangling after the Washington Supreme Court last year upheld the North Central Regional Library district practice of narrowly filtering Internet pages related to pornography and gambling.
The state court’s 6-3 decision sided with the NCRL and its 28 branch libraries in a 2006 suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, representing three North Central Washington residents — Sarah Bradburn of Republic, Pearl Cherrington of Twisp and Charles Heinlen of Okanogan — and the Second Amendment Foundation. That gun rights lobbying group managed a magazine website, womenandguns.com, which was blocked by the library’s filters.
Also blocked were web pages about drug and alcohol addiction, an art gallery site, health information sites, the personals section of Craigslist.org, the MySpace pages of presidential candidates and the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra page.
The case was originally filed in federal court, which handed it off to the state Supreme Court for ruling on issues relating to free speech law under the state constitution. Some federal questions remain to be decided, including the plaintiffs’ claim that the state ruling abridges free speech under the U.S. Constitution.
“One would expect the First Amendment to apply with special force in public libraries,” Seattle plaintiffs’ attorney Duncan Manville wrote in a July 2010 brief.
The library system’s response memo argued that the state ruling addressed all relevant constitutional questions, citing a 2003 case, United States v. American Library Association, which allowed Congress to require web filtering in many public schools and libraries.
“Nothing in ALA or other federal First Amendment law warrants a different analysis and conclusion than that reached by the Bradburn court,” the libraries argued in a brief by attorney Thomas D. Adams.
In a press release Thursday, library director Dean Marney said the NCRL has a responsibility to filter its online content appropriately.
“Our mission is to promote reading and lifelong learning,” Marney wrote. “It is crazy to think that we should be required to use tax dollars to allow open access to Internet pornography or to become illegal casinos.”
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123
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