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Supreme Court Reinstates CIPA for Libraries

The U.S. Supreme Court June 23 overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated the requirement that libraries that receive certain kinds of E-rate support must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act.


The Court ruled, 6-3, that CIPA did not amount to an unconstitutional restriction on the First Amendment rights of adult library patrons. An opinion signed by four justices said the “Concerns over filtering software’s tendency to erroneously “overblock” access to constitutionally protected speech that falls outside the categories software users intend to block are dispelled by the ease with which patrons may have the filtering software disabled.” The justices wrote that “When the government appropriates public funds to establish a program, it is entitled to broadly define the program’s limits.”

Under the law, libraries that accept E-rate discounts for Internet access or internal connections were subject to CIPA provisions as were libraries that accepted certain kinds of funding under the Library Services and Technology Act. After the American Library Association and American Civil Liberties Union were successful before a lower court in blocking enforcement of some of the law’s provisions, libraries were not required to install a “technology protection measure” on their Internet-accessible computers, pending the Supreme Court’s disposition of the case.

In a statement, the ALA said it was “very disappointed” in the decision, which it said forced libraries to choose “between federal funding for technology improvements and censorship.” It said it would begin compiling information from filtering companies on their products to assist their members in choosing which filters to use.

The Schools and Libraries Division had been forced to modify the Form 486 application because of the different treatment, for CIPA purposes, of schools and libraries. The SLD and Federal Communications Commission will now have to determine how the requirements will be reapplied-only a week before the start of a new funding year.

In the first year after CIPA took effect on July 1, 2001, schools and libraries were supposed to be “undertaking actions” to comply with its requirements for a “technology protection measure” to be used on computers that access the Internet and an Internet safety policy to be adopted after a public hearing. By July 1, 2002, schools that had accepted the particular kinds of E-rate funding for two straight years were expected to be in full compliance with the law.

The full Supreme Court decision can be reviewed by clicking here.

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