Filtering-software requirement goes to trial in Virginia

Friday, September 25, 1998

Mandatory use of filtering software faces a challenge in court today in Loudoun County, Va., where a federal judge will hear arguments in a case filed against a public library over the institution’s policy of installing filtering software on all its computers.

In December 1997, Mainstream Loudoun, a self-described “nonprofit grassroots membership organization dedicated to ensuring a free and open society,” sued the library’s board of trustees, contending the library’s policy violates First Amendment free-speech rights.

Last April, federal Judge Leonie Brinkema refused to dismiss the case, ruling in Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library that the library “may not selectively restrict certain categories of Internet speech because it disfavors their speech.”

Judge Brinkema concluded that the library’s policy must clear the highest hurdle of judicial review, a standard known in legal terms as strict scrutiny.

In light of that earlier decision, many First Amendment advocates predict that the judge will eventually rule in Mainstream Loudoun’s favor.

That prediction may be tested as early as today if Judge Brinkema rules on Mainstream Loudoun’s motion for summary judgment. Brinkema could also wait before issuing a ruling, since parties often file extensive court documents in conjunction with summary judgment motions.

Mainstream Loudon v. Board of Trustees is considered the test case for filtering software because it was the first ever filed against a library board over a mandatory Internet filtering policy.

Since then, a Livermore, Calif., public library has been sued for not installing filtering software. The situation leads some to characterize the unenviable position of public libraries as “between a rock and a hard place.”