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June 09, 2001 03:54pm
U.S. Defends Law Aimed at Cyberporn in Libraries
Source: Reuters

(PHILADELPHIA, PA) -- The U.S. government said on Friday that its latest attempt to control pornography on the Internet did not undermine free speech by withholding federal funds from libraries that fail to adopt adequate safeguards.

In a lengthy response to a First Amendment challenge to the Children's Internet Protection Act, the Justice Department argues that the new law simply ensures that government funds are not used to subsidize material deemed harmful to minors.

``It is the exclusive authority of the library to make affirmative decisions regarding what books, magazines or other material is placed on library shelves,'' the government said in a brief filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

``In this context, there is nothing unique about the Internet as a source of information or about the libraries' roles as 'access points to the Internet.'''

A coalition of public libraries, library patrons and Web site operators challenged the law in March, complaining of big-brother government and free-speech censorship.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is spearheading the case, had no immediate response to the Justice Department's filings.

CIPA, signed into law by then President Bill Clinton last December, represents the third attempt by Congress to control pornography on the Internet.

It requires public libraries and schools to equip computers with filtering software designed to block access to pornographic Web sites.

Public libraries that fail to comply risk losing discounts on Internet access as well as federal grants. Libraries receive about $65 million a year in discounts and $150 million in grants.

Earlier attempts by Congress to control Internet pornography failed. The 1996 Communications Decency Act was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court as an infringement of free speech. The Supreme Court is now set to hear arguments on the 1998 Child Online Protection Act.

Sponsors have said the newest law was designed to pass constitutional muster by simply withholding federal funds if schools and libraries did not comply.

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