Loudoun Library Board Decides Not to Appeal Filtering Decision

(April 21, 1999) The Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library voted 7 to 2 on Monday night, April 19, not to appeal Judge Brinkema's decision holding the library's previous Internet filtering policy unconstitutional.

The board's decision brings to a close the federal lawsuit, Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library. U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema's November 23, 1998 decision will stand.

See, summary of Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Public Libraries, case No. 97-2049, U.S. District Court, E.D. Virginia.

People for the American Way (PFAW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) both sued the Loudoun County Library, nominally on behalf of local residents and blocked web sites, respectively. They claimed that the use of X-Stop filtering software on the libraries' computers violated the First Amendment rights of both library patrons and web sites. Judge Brinkema issued her lengthy decision in favor of the Plaintiffs last November 23.

The library board held a tumultuous standing room only public meeting on December 1, 1998. After hearing dozens of impassioned appeals to either appeal or abide by Judge Brinkema's opinion, the library board delayed its final decision on whether to appeal the decision until Judge Brinkema ruled on the motions for attorneys fees. PFAW and the ACLU subsequently asked for over $488,000.

Judge Brinkema issued her decision awarding about $106,000 on April 1. Had Judge Brinkema awarded the plaintiffs' lawyers what they had asked for, the library board likely would have appealed.

The meeting on April 19 was a low key affair compared to the December meeting. Only three people came to testify at Monday night's meeting. All three asked the Board to appeal the decision.

The library board also adopted a new Internet use policy at its December 1 meeting. "The policy that we have is very effective," said Linda Holtslander, a member of the library staff. "We have had no complaints about it." She stated that under the new policy "an adult has a choice between filtered access and unfiltered access, and a parent makes the choice for a child."

This ends this particular case, said Ken Bass, the attorney for the Library. However, he added that there will be other cases. "I can't imagine that there isn't going to be a suit in some other jurisdiction, where the state statutes are now requiring libraries to put in filtering software, or the McCain bill, if it passes."

Related Summaries

Tech Law Journal summary of filtering bills in the 106th Congress.
Tech Law Journal summary of the FCC's schools and libraries program.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is the lead sponsor of a bill in the Senate that would require schools and libraries which elect to receive subsidies under the e-rate to install and use software that filtering out material that is harmful to children. The Senate Commerce Committee, which Sen. McCain chairs, held a hearing on the Children's Internet Protection Act (S 97) on March 4, 1999. PFAW's top lawyer, Elliot Mincberg, testified at that hearing against the bill.

Rep. Bob Franks (R-NJ) is sponsoring a companion bill in the House of Representatives (HR 986). A filtering bill is likely to pass in the current Congress.

Also, it is possible that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would promulgate regulations that would require e-rate subsidy recipients to adopt an Internet use policy. On April 4, 1999, Larry Irving, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, wrote a letter to FCC Chairman William Kennard advising that he do so. However, any such FCC regulations would likely be less stringent than the McCain and Franks proposals.


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