‘Not a single complaint’ with new Internet library policy in Loudoun County

Thursday, December 31, 1998

A month after a federal judge struck down a Virginia library system's policy mandating Internet filters on all computers used by patrons, library officials say their new rules are working well.

The Loudoun County Public Library Board voted to change its rules after U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema found that the policy mandating filtering software for all computers — whether used by adults or minors — violated First Amendment free-speech rights.

Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library

created national debate over pornography, the First Amendment and public libraries. Filtering advocates argue that if libraries allow unfettered Internet access, children and others will be harmed by pornography.

However, Doug Henderson, the director of library services for Loudoun County, says there has not been any controversy at the library branches since the board changed its policy from filters for all patrons to what he calls a “parent's choice” policy.

“We have not had a single problem or complaint,” he said.

“Now our terminals are set with a no-filtering default but adults can select the filtering option if they choose,” Henderson said.

Under the new policy, parents choose whether their children have filtered or unfiltered Internet access.

Even though the library board has adopted a new policy, there is still a possibility that the board may appeal the decision by Brinkema.

Kenneth Bass, attorney for the library board in the Mainstream Loudoun case, filed a notice of appeal on behalf of the board on Dec. 23. “I was told by the library board to keep open the possibility of an appeal,” he said.

Bass says that the final decision whether to continue the appeals process is being delayed until the parties in the lawsuit resolve the issue of attorneys fees.

Richard Black, a former member of the library board who drafted the old Internet policy, said that he was “doubtful” that an appeal would be filed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“There is just too much political pressure on the board of supervisors, which appoints the library board,” he said.

In October 1997, the library board adopted Black's policy, which he said was designed to prevent minors from accessing pornography and to prevent sexually hostile environments at libraries. The nine-member board passed the measure 5-4.

However, since the lawsuit, the makeup of the library board has substantially changed. Black said that most of the library board members who favored his policy had been replaced.

Under the Loudoun County system, each member of the board of supervisors appoints a person to the library board. Black said there had been “enormous, behind-the-scenes pressure on the board of supervisors to change the composition of the (library) board.” When asked to identify the source of this pressure, he said the “Internet industry.”

Black, who was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in February 1998, said his original policy was “immensely popular in Loudoun County — as my election demonstrates.”

It is only a matter of time before problems arise at the Loudoun County library because of unfettered Internet access, Black says. “Once we provide pornography in public places, there are going to be problems.”

Black says that he will continue to push for legislation requiring filtered Internet access at public institutions.

David Burt, the founder of Filtering Facts, agrees that filters are needed, saying, “more and more incidents of pornography abuse are occurring at public libraries.

“It is a growing problem, not isolated incidents as Judge Brinkema said in her opinion,” he said. On his Web site, Burt lists 175 incidents of “pornography abuses” in public libraries.

However, Henderson says filters are fine for private use, but they raise First Amendment flags when implemented in a public library.

“Public libraries are the cornerstones of democracy and are public institutions subject to the requirements of the First Amendment,” he said. “We as government actors cannot censor material on the Internet. That's the whole reason this has been an important First Amendment case.”