Arizona Senate passes Internet-filtering bill

Friday, April 16, 1999

The Arizona Senate passed a bill earlier this week that is designed to prevent minors from accessing pornographic materials at public schools and public libraries.

Introduced Jan. 18 by state Rep. Mark Anderson, House Bill 2409 requires public schools to install filtering software on their computers. The measure provides greater flexibility to public libraries. The libraries must either install filtering software or develop a policy by Jan. 1, 2000, that “establishes measures to restrict minors from gaining computer access to explicit sexual materials.”

The House approved the measure by a 42-16 vote on March 9. On April 14, the Senate voted 20-10 in favor of the bill. The bill now heads back to the House to approve minor changes made by the Senate. If those changes are approved, the bill will go to the governor.

Hadden Tucker, legislative liaison with the Center for Arizona Policy, a group that lobbied for the bill, hailed the Senate vote. “We are very pleased and not at all surprised that the Senate passed this measure which will protect children from harmful material on the Internet,” he said.

Tucker said the measure would not violate First Amendment free-speech rights. “This measure is constitutional because it does not involve constitutionally protected material,” he said. “Material that is harmful to minors is not protected by the First Amendment.”

David Burt of Filtering Facts also said the measure would survive a constitutional challenge. “Protecting children from material deemed 'harmful to minors' is a well-established compelling government interest, and 'harmful to minors' is a well-tested legal standard,” he said.

“I like this legislation because it takes the focus off whether or not filters work or are right for libraries and puts the focus more squarely where it belongs: that libraries are responsible for protecting children from this material, just like every other place of public access,” Burt said.

However, free-speech expert Jonathan Wallace, who opposes filtering in public institutions, said the bill could be successfully challenged.

“A challenge to this law would likely succeed on the grounds that it is unconstitutional as applied,” he said. “There is no censorware which blocks only sites which meet the harmful to minors definition; they are all more extensive than that. For example, a library which installed Cybersitter under this law would fail the test because the product blocks the National Organization for Women site.”

Burt says Arizona's effort will encourage Congress to enact some type of filtering legislation. U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ernest Hollings, R-S.C., introduced the Children's Internet Protection Act earlier this year.