SPOKANE, Washington - The American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the North Central Regional Library system could be resolved in April if a federal judge decides to forego the trial scheduled for June.
Filed in 2006 on behalf of three north-central Washington residents and a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, the suit claims the library system's Internet filters violate the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights.
Summary judgments were presented by both sides last week to request
that a federal District Court judge make a ruling without trial. A hearing is
scheduled for April 15 in Richland.
"A summary judgment motion is a procedural thing," ACLU lawyer Aaron Caplan told Wenatchee World. "Basically, we're saying, ‘Hey, judge, we don't need a trial. Just tell us who wins.' We agree on what the facts are, for the most part. It's a legal question for the judge to say it's OK or it's not OK."
At the core of the dispute is whether libraries should offer adults a way to turn off the Internet filters.
Public libraries are required to have Internet filters to
comply with the Children's Internet Protection Act and be eligible to receive
federal funding. By law, visual depictions of obscenity, child pornography or
images "harmful to minors" must be blocked.
The library system's filtering system, Fortiguard, blocks instant messaging, chatting, image searching, gambling, video searching, adult material and anything that is potentially damaging to the libraries' computer network.
According to the library system's summary judgment,
Fortiguard allows users to request reviews of websites they consider to have
been unfairly blocked. The process generally takes about 24 hours.
The plaintiffs contend that the filter also arbitrarily blocks suitable websites, including MySpace, dating sites, sites for health-related research and sites offering help for drug and alcohol addiction.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the law is only constitutional if filters can be turned off for adults at their request, the ACLU argued.
"The main problem is that the library is deciding that adults who use a computer terminal should only read things the library considers to be fit for children," Caplan said.
According to the library system, turning off the Internet filter could put nearby children and staff members at risk of viewing inappropriate material.
The library system said in its summary judgment that the Supreme Court's 2003 ruling was that libraries "may" disable Internet filtering for adults, not "must."
"The library has, in good faith, undertaken a policy that is
reconcilable with both the First Amendment and the state constitution," library
attorney Tom Adams told the Wenatchee
World. "The policy advances the mission and the traditional role of the
library, and it is also consistent with the requirements of CIPA. For all these
reasons, the library has indeed promulgated a proper policy."
The North Central Regional Library system includes 28 community libraries in Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Ferry and Okanogan counties.