California Assembly to vote on library Internet filtering bill

Tuesday, April 15, 1997

The Local Government Committee of the California Assembly will consider a bill today designed to protect children from Internet pornography at public libraries.

Introduced by Assemblyman Peter Frusetta in February, the bill provides that “every public library that provides public access to the Internet shall purchase, install, and maintain computer software that prohibits access to obscene matter” as defined by California law.

California's bill comes in the wake of U.S. Sen. John McCain's federal Internet School Filtering Act, also introduced in February, which would require public schools and libraries to install filtering software on computer terminals in order to receive federal funding for Internet hookups.

Crystal Roberts, legal policy analyst for the Family Research Council, contends the California bill is constitutional. She said: “The U.S. Supreme Court has maintained that states and local communities have a compelling interest in protecting children from material that is obscene or harmful to minors.

“There is no absolute right to free speech. California legislators can restrict First Amendment freedoms to the extent necessary to protect children and their communities from harmful materials,” she said.

However, several civil liberty advocates argue that the California measure is unconstitutional. Mary Sue Ferrell, executive director of the California Library Association, said: “We actively oppose this bill because the question of information access should be left up to individual libraries. People should have access to information; we don't need a state law mandating restrictions.”

Richard Matthews, deputy director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom, said: “We oppose the use of filtering software that would block access to constitutionally protected material.”

Francisco Lobaco, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union in California, expressed a similar position in comments made to The New York Times: “It's a problematical, frankly unconstitutional bill. You're removing the decision making from librarians and putting it in the hands of software manufacturers. It goes against the whole notion of a library as a bastion of intellectual freedom.”

There had been indications that Frusetta might amend his bill to require that only a portion of a library's terminals, particularly those designated for children, would have to be equipped with filtering software.

However, Devin Brown, spokesman for Frusetta, said that “such an amendment has not yet been consecrated. We are still deciding whether to implement such an amendment. The bill is still in its infancy stages.” Brown added that the bill still has to “clear two more committees after the Local Government Committee before reaching the Assembly floor.”