County library to install Internet filters on children’s computers

Wednesday, April 29, 1998

A California county library board voted unanimously late last week to install Internet filtering software on computers in areas primarily designated for children.


The new Santa Clara County policy represents a change from the library's previous one, which county librarian Susan Fuller referred to as “a policy of open access.”


The impetus for changing the policy came from complaints by an anti-pornography group known as KIDS–Keep the Internet Decent and Safe. KIDS, which is based in Gilroy, petitioned the library about a year and a half ago for blocking software because of concerns about children accessing pornographic material from the Internet.


Fuller told said: “The library board has really struggled with this difficult issue for quite some time.”


A special task force designed to assist the library board in deciding the filtering question actually recommended placing software on one computer terminal in the adult area of the county libraries.


However, the board decided to put the filters only on computers in the children's areas.


“I think the good part of this policy is that it still allows choice,” Fuller said. “The whole issue of First Amendment rights of minors has not been settled by the courts. There needs to be a case on this. There is simply too much disagreement now.


“A public library is at the front line of the First Amendment. That's where our rights are played out,” she said.


While the library board faces pressure from KIDS, it must also grapple with a group of citizens on the other end of the political spectrum.


James Chadwick, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues, said that he represents a group of citizens who oppose filtering of any kind in public libraries.


“There are First Amendment concerns and pragmatic concerns with filtering software in public libraries,” Chadwick said. “It is eminently clear that minors have First Amendment rights. It is also very clear that nobody has yet come up with a filtering program that doesn't block some constitutionally protected material. These two factors show that the First Amendment rights of minors will be violated by the installation of such software.”


Chadwick also said there were several practical problems with filters. “The filters will prevent access to certain information—such as safe sex practices and birth control—that may be critical to minors' health and safety,” he said.


He said that the group that pushed for the installation of the filtering programs, KIDS, was more concerned with eliminating pornography than protecting children. “I don't think they're as much about protecting kids as they are about controlling everyone, both adults and children,” he said.


A call placed to a representative of KIDS was not returned.


Chadwick said his clients were “still considering” whether to file a lawsuit challenging the new policy.