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Washington Supreme Court Approves Use of Library Internet Filters

Library for Internet usagePublic libraries, in theory, are supposed to be bastions of information. But with the rise of the Internet, many libraries have begun putting up online filters, to make sure users are using public broadband connections to search for actual information and not, well, porn. To many, it's a practical measure. But is it constitutional? According to the Washington state Supreme Court, it is.

As the AP reports, the court issued a 6-3 decision yesterday that affirmed the constitutionality of public library Internet filters, which some had seen as restrictive of free speech. "A public library can decide that it will not include pornography and other adult materials in its collection in accord with its mission and policies and, as explained, no unconstitutionality necessarily results," read the majority opinion, spearheaded by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. "It can make the same choices about Internet access." Four justices in the majority said that library digital filters did not pose a direct violation of First Amendment rights to free speech, while two others deemed the practice acceptable, under the condition that libraries remove filters for adults who request it.

Justice Tom Chambers led the dissenting opinion, maintaining that the practice of censoring material on the Internet was not equivalent to deciding whether or not to purchase a book for a library's collection. "It is more like refusing to circulate a book that is in the collection based on its content," Chambers wrote. Citing what he perceived as a direct violation of constitutionally protected free speech, Chambers added that "the library's filtering policy is at best doubtful and, I predict, will be struck down."

The problem with Chambers' opinion, however, is that it fails to take into account the idea of the library as a public space. In a perfect world, librarians wouldn't feel the need to implement any precautionary measures. In reality, it's probably a necessity, especially when you consider the possibility that someone could engage in lewd online behavior in plain view of children, or any other bystander. At a time when the poorest people in the US rely so heavily on public computers to connect to the Internet, it's become even more critically important for libraries to guarantee the safety of its computers -- and to reassure users that they won't run the risk of sitting next to some perv with his hands down his pants. [From: AP/HuffingtonPost]

Tags: censorship, filter, filtering, filters, first amendment, FirstAmendment, freedom of speech, FreedomOfSpeech, Internet, libraries, library, porn, publicspaces, supreme court, SupremeCourt, top, washington state, WashingtonState, web