Issue 91, Fall 2003

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress may require libraries receiving federal funds to filter the Internet, in the interest of protecting minors from sex online (Censorship News 90). CIPA, (the Children’s Internet Protection Act) is legal, the Court said, as long as adults can ask to have a computer unblocked.

The American Library Association, one of the plaintiffs opposing CIPA, has posted a series of Questions and Answers on its Web site to clarify the meaning of CIPA and to facilitate the public’s access to lawful information.

The ALA encourages libraries that are receiving federal funds for Internet access (in consultation with their own legal counsel) to post signs informing patrons that:


  • “Because this library receives federal funding for public Internet access, federal law requires the library to install blocking software on the library’s Internet terminals.
  • “The blocking software, or filter, is inherently imprecise and flawed. It inevitably will block access to a vast array of constitutionally protected material on the Internet. Because of its technological limitations, the filter is also incapable of protecting against access to Internet material that is obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors.
  • “Under the law, the library can unblock individual websites that have been blocked erroneously by the filter. In addition, the library will disable the entire filter for adult patrons 17 and over upon request. The requesting patron will not have to explain why he or she is asking that the site be unblocked or that the entire filter be turned off. Emphasis added. The library encourages patrons to request that the filter be disabled.”


According to the ALA, “it is unclear how the Supreme Court decision affects disabling for minors…Minors undoubtedly have constitutional rights to receive information, but the Court did not address these rights at length in its decision. It is nonetheless clear that CIPA permits minors to request that a library unblock specific websites.” For more information, click here.