US Supreme Court to decide library Net filtering case

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether requiring public libraries to put Internet filtering software on computers in an effort to shield children from pornography violates free speech.

The high court's agreement to hear the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) appeal in an ongoing debate over the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) could potentially set new standards for online speech.

CIPA, signed into law in 2000, requires that public libraries install "technological protection measures" on computers or risk losing some types of federal funding. The law was immediately assailed by a number of libraries, library patrons and civil liberty groups, who called it unconstitutional. Not only does the filtering requirement stifle free speech, the groups said, it also serves to deepen the digital divide, restricting Net access on computers used by people who often cannot afford to have them at home.

However, the government has labelled the law a necessary step in protecting children from online pornography and other 'harmful" content. But despite these claims, a three-judge panel in Pennsylvania agreed with the libraries and civil rights groups last May, ruling CIPA unconstitutional.

In its decision, the panel said that the law would "block access to substantial amounts of constitutionally protected free speech whose suppression serves no legitimate government interest."

The DOJ appealed the ruling, sending it to the Supreme Court. The high court is not likely to decide the case until next year.

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