Councilman to seek vote on Internet filtering in public libraries

Tuesday, January 5, 1999

A Florida county councilman who ended up on the losing end of a vote to filter Internet access at Volusia County public libraries wants another shot at defeating the policy.

In late November, the Volusia County Council voted 5-2 to provide filtering at all library computer terminals with Internet access.

However, Councilman Frank Bruno, who voted against the filtering proposal, wants the council to reconsider. “I am definitely concerned about First Amendment rights,” he said.

Bruno says that with two new members being sworn in later this week, the council should reconsider the matter. He plans to ask that the issue be placed on the agenda for the next council meeting Jan. 21.

He says that the better course for the council to take is to require filters at terminals used by children, but not to filter terminals in the adult section of the library. According to Bruno, this policy would both protect children and preserve adult free-speech rights.

However, Councilwoman Ann McFall, who voted to filter all library computers, says the issue is about protecting children rather than restricting speech. “The policy we approved was an attempt to help prevent children from accessing bad material on the Internet,” she said. “Filters are not a panacea, but they are a step in the right direction.”

McFall says that the council need not reconsider its decision.

However, Bruno says that if the council does not change its policy, it may face a lawsuit similar to a case in Virginia. In Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library, a federal judge ruled last November that the library's policy mandating the installation of blocking software on all library computers infringed on adults' First Amendment free-speech rights.

“We can be responsible without facing a lawsuit,” Bruno said. “I understand the need to protect children loud and clear. I want to protect children, but I also don't want to be in the business of censoring. I have received numerous calls from people saying 'I don't want you as a county official taking away my First Amendment rights.'”

An incoming council member, Big John, says that the solution might be to leave one or two terminals in each library with no filters. He said: “With that method, we would allow people to access whatever material they want, but we would also be protecting children.”