Indiana legislator introduces Internet filtering bill

Thursday, February 3, 2000

The governing bodies of public libraries and schools that provide Internet access would have to meet once a year to determine what material on the Internet is “inappropriate for minors” under a bill recently introduced in the Indiana House.

The measure by state Rep. Brian C. Bosna would require both public schools and libraries to either “equip” their computers with blocking software or “purchase Internet connectivity from an Internet service provider that provides filter services.”

The bill states that it is designed to protect children from harmful material on the Internet.

The difference between the Indiana bill and filtering bills in other states is the requirement of an annual “public meeting” to determine “what materials are considered inappropriate for minors.”

The measure would provide that at this annual public meeting, the school and library boards “shall provide reasonable opportunity for full public testimony” on the issue of what material is “inappropriate for minors.”

The governing bodies of the public schools and libraries would also determine at the annual public meeting what the “community's standards [are] regarding materials that are inappropriate for minors.”

David Burt, president of the pro-filtering group Filtering Facts, said the term “inappropriate for minors” is “vague.” However, Burt says that the provision providing for an annual meeting for governing bodies to determine what material is “inappropriate” makes the bill constitutional.

“I interpret this [the provision dealing with the public meeting to determine what is inappropriate for minors] as setting the state's harmful-to-minors standard — as well as obscenity and child pornography — as a floor that all libraries will meet, and the 'inappropriate' material beyond that is left up to the local library,” Burt said. “That's the way it should be: legal standards as a floor and, beyond that, to be determined by the local library based on their own standards.”

However, Larry Ottinger, senior staff attorney with the People for the American Way Foundation, says the bill infringes on First Amendment freedoms. “'Inappropriate for minors' is not a recognized legal standard,” he said.

“Requiring public facilities to filter the Internet for material that is inappropriate for minors, particularly public libraries, is both bad policy and legally suspect,” Ottinger said.

Ottinger questioned the wisdom of having an annual meeting at which government officials determined what material is appropriate. “This is the classic equivalent of a board of censors,” he said.

The bill, which was introduced on Jan. 11, has been sent to the House Committee on Public Policy, Ethics and Veteran Affairs.

A call to Bosna was not returned.