ACLU Lawsuit Seeks Access to Lawful Information on Internet for Library Patrons in Eastern Washington

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
November 16, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU of Washington
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SPOKANE, WA – Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, three library users and a nonprofit organization today brought a lawsuit to ensure that patrons of a library system in Eastern Washington have access to useful and lawful information on the Internet.

The lawsuit challenges the library system’s policy of using a restrictive Internet filter to bar access by adults to information on its computers and of refusing to honor requests by adult patrons to temporarily disable the filter for sessions of uncensored reading and research.

“Community libraries are a valuable resource for a wide variety of information. Libraries should not deny adults using publicly available computers the opportunity to view research material and other lawful information,” said ACLU of Washington Legal Director Sarah Dunne.

The North Central Regional Library District (NCRL) operates 28 community libraries in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, and Okanogan Counties. The NCRL has used a blocking software product called SmartFilter, Bess edition, manufactured by the California-based company Secure Computing Corporation, to filter Internet content on all public computers at its branch libraries. Bess blocks a very broad array of lawful information, and the NCRL has refused to unblock sites for patrons.

The lawsuit contends that the library system’s policy of refusing to disable its Internet filters at the request of adults who wish to conduct bona fide research or to access the Web for other lawful purposes violates the United States and Washington State Constitutions. The lawsuit seeks an order directing the NCRL to provide unblocked access to the Internet when adults request it.

Two separate federal programs require libraries that receive funds for Internet access to have the ability to block minors from seeing “visual depictions” of sexual activity. But the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the law to mean that libraries should disable those filters upon the request of an adult. The ACLU believes that the NCRL filtering policy goes far beyond what is allowed under federal law.

Plaintiffs represented by the ACLU in the lawsuit are:

  • Sarah Bradburn, a resident of Republic in Ferry County, who has been blocked from using NCRL computers to research academic assignments while studying at Eastern Washington University to become a drug and alcohol counselor.
  • Pearl Cherrington, a resident of Twisp in Okanogan County, a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and outdoor scenes who has been blocked from using NCRL computers to conduct Internet research on art galleries and health issues.
  • Charles Heinlen, a resident of Okanogan in Okanogan County, who has been blocked from using NCRL computers to access the blog he maintains on MySpace, as well information relating to gun use by hunters and other lawful information.
  • The Second Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit organization with more than 600,000 members nationwide and headquarters in Bellevue, WA. The Foundation undertakes education, research, publishing, and legal action focusing on the constitutional right to own and possess firearms. It maintains a Web site and sponsors several publications that are available online, and wishes to communicate to readers in North Central Washington. The NCRL has blocked access to the Foundation-sponsored magazine Women & Guns, which is written and edited by women for women, and covers such topics as self-defense, recreational shooting, new products and legal issues.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane. Handling the case for the ACLU are cooperating attorneys Duncan Manville and Robert Hyde of the firm Rafel Manville PLLC and ACLU staff attorney Aaron Caplan.

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