High Court Supports Internet Filters On Library Computers

Congress can require libraries to equip public computers with anti-pornography filters.

A divided Supreme Court upheld a controversial law, despite a challenge from the nation's librarians. The American Library Association argued that requiring the filtering software amounts to high tech censorship.

Library patrons keep the computer room busy in downtown Biloxi. Access to the Internet is popular and quite public.

"In our computer room, the screens are not hidden. We don't give you privacy. We keep an eye on what's going on in our libraries," said head librarian, Charline Longino.

That's part of the reason she says the law requiring anti porn filters is unnecessary.

Libraries in the Harrison County system already monitor all Internet access. Patrons must read a written policy and abide by rules which include prohibiting access to pornographic sites.

"We also did what we call the "over the shoulder tap". That is, we keep an eye on what's going on on our computers. And if you're going to places where you shouldn't be, you don't use our computers. We ban people for six months and sometimes permanently if they can't follow our rules," she explained.

The court case began two years ago, after Congress passed a law requiring libraries to use Internet filters or face a loss of federal funding. The American Library Association challenged that law in court, arguing that forcing the use of such filters amounts to censorship.

While librarians still question the effectiveness and appropriateness of Internet filters, there's also the money concern.

"And the way this law is going to be applied, if you don't conform to it you don't get the telecommunication grant, what they call the universal service grant, and for us this year that means about sixty seven thousand dollars in federal money. So, it's important to us," said Robert Lipscomb, the director of the Harrison County library system.

He says it will cost the library system about ten thousand dollars to install the required filtering software.

There are computers in the children's section of Harrison County libraries, but those are not connected to the Internet. Anyone under 18 years old must have a parent's permission before using the Internet at the library.