The First Amendment's Limitations on the Use of Internet Filtering in Public and School Libraries

Posted: 10 Oct 1998

Date Written: October 1998

Abstract

This article asserts that the First Amendment permits libraries to use private-sector software filters to control what can be viewed on their Internet terminals as long as the filters do not represent an effort to discriminate against offending viewpoints. It contends that librarians may use filters to ensure that their patrons can efficiently use the library's limited resources -- computer terminals and Internet links -- to gain access to the categories of content that the librarians choose to include in their collections. Thus, libraries may seek to maximize terminal availability for "research" by blocking access to "disfavored" websites, such as those offering shopping services or play-by-play updates of sporting events. Libraries may also use filters to empower parents to diminish their children's access to adult material. It appears, however, that the First Amendment requires that libraries using filters 1) retain "final say" over selection decisions, 2) know the criteria that the filter uses to exclude content, and 3) have the resources to correct the viewpoint discrimination that filters are likely to generate.

Suggested Citation

Nadel, Mark S., The First Amendment's Limitations on the Use of Internet Filtering in Public and School Libraries (October 1998). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=136450

Mark S. Nadel (Contact Author)

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