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Media Release: Supreme Court Supports Library Internet Blocking Law

For Immediate Release: Monday, June 23, 2003


Will Doherty
Executive Director
Online Policy Group

Supreme Court Supports Library Internet Blocking Law

Damages Free Speech of Library Patrons and Web Publishers

San Francisco - The Supreme Court ruled today that a federal statute requiring Internet blocking, also known as filtering, in libraries receiving certain federal funds or discounts is constitutional. Reversing a lower court decision by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the court noted that the use of Internet blocking to comply with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in libraries is constitutional because the need for libraries to prevent minors from accessing obscene materials outweighs the free speech rights of library patrons and website publishers.

The CIPA law requires all schools and libraries that receive federal funds or discounts to install and use a technology for blocking Internet speech that is obscene, child pornography, or in the case of minors, "harmful to minors." However, based on extensive evidence, the lower court in this case found that many studies report that Internet blocking software is incapable of blocking only the materials required by CIPA, a conclusion supported by many independent studies. The CIPA law is also problematic because speech that is harmful to minors is still legal for adults, and many library patrons are adults.

"The Supreme Court today dealt a tremendous blow to the free speech rights of child and adult library patrons and Internet publishers by supporting Congress' mandate that libraries must install faulty Internet blocking software to obtain federal funding or discounts," said Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Attorney Kevin Bankston, an Equal Justice Works / Bruce J. Ennis Fellow.

"The tragedy is that millions of library patrons now join the millions of students, many of them no longer minors, who face the Internet blocking barrier to obtaining a proper education at schools nationwide," said OPG Executive Director Will Doherty. "The Children's Internet Protection Act holds library patrons and students hostage to faulty blocking software created with arbitrary standards foreign to their own communities."

EFF participated as co-counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union in the case.

OPG and Seth Finkelstein entered an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case.

For this media release:

U.S. Supreme court decision (large PDF file):

ALA v. USA case archive:

Amicus brief from OPG and Seth Finkelstein:

Online Policy Group and Electronic Frontier Foundation study on the effects of Internet blocking in schools:

More on Children's Internet Protection Act:

American Library Association CIPA information:

About OPG:

The Online Policy Group (OPG) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to online policy research, outreach, and action on issues such as access, privacy, and digital defamation. The organization fulfills its motto of "one Internet with equal access to all" through projects such as donation-based email list hosting, web hosting, domain registrations, and now colocation services. OPG focuses on Internet participants' civil liberties and human rights, like access, privacy, safety, and serving schools, libraries, disabled, elderly, youth, women, and sexual, gender, and ethnic minorities. Find out more at

About EFF:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading civil liberties organization working to protect rights in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF actively encourages and challenges industry and government to support free expression and privacy online. EFF is a member-supported organization and maintains one of the most linked-to websites in the world at

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