Blocking Bills Introduced

(February 12, 1998)  Senators John McCain (R-AZ),  Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced in the Senate the Internet School Filtering Act of 1998 on February 9.  It requires that elemenary and secondary schools, and libraries, receiving federal internet access subsidies install the blocking software of their choice.

Meanwhile, Rep. Frank (R-NJ) introduced a parallel bill in the House on February 11.  S 1619 and HR 3177 are designed to protect children from exposure to sexually explicit and other harmful material when they access the Internet in school and in the library.

Sen. Holllings described bill. "This legislation protects children form being exposed to explicit material while they're using the Internet at school or the local library.  It gives schools and libraries an added financial incentive to filter children's access to the Internet when children are not under parental supervision."

Introduction of these bills begins another battle in an ongoing war over what can be published, and who will be exposed to what, on the internet.  Congress passed the Communications Decency Act as for of the mammoth Telecommunications Act of 1996.  In 1997, the section of the CDA which banned "indecent" material on the internet was held unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment free speech clause by the Supreme Court in Reno v. ACLU.

Sen. Dan Coats last November introduced S1482, which is more narrowly tailored to prevent only distribution on the web to persons under 17 of content which is "harmful to minors".   The  ACLU, which successfully litigated the CDA case, and other groups, have vowed to challenge S 1482 if it is enacted into law.

Blocking software is already the subject of federal litigation.  The ACLU is  is representing a group of websites and writers in the Loudon Library lawsuit.  The ACLU asserts that their first amendment free speech rights have been violated by the use of blocking software.

The Internet Schools Filtering Act provides, with regard to the decision to install blocking or filtering software, that "No agency or instrumentality of the United States Government may--(A) establish criteria for making that determination; (B) review the determination made by the certifying school, school board, library, or other authority."