The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Congress can force public libraries to use anti-pornography filters if they want to continue receiving federal funding for technology. Critics have questioned the filters' effectiveness and complain that they sometimes block legitimate sites, including those containing information on gay and lesbian issues. But the disputed law was upheld with the stipulation that libraries may disable the filters for patrons who ask.
Under the Children's Internet Protection Act, signed into law in 2000, schools and libraries that receive certain federal funds must block access to obscenity, child pornography, and, while minors are using a computer, other materials deemed harmful to minors. Filters--software that monitors and controls access to Web sites and other Internet material--have widely been regarded as the best way to meet those requirements. The current case challenged only the restraints imposed on libraries; a legal challenge to the filtering requirement for schools is now unlikely. Critics say such filters often make mistakes and block health- and science-related educational sites. A Web site for House majority leader Dick Armey, for example, had nothing that could be construed as pornographic but was blocked at various times. Critics also contend that sites on art, human rights, sex education, and sexual orientation are similarly blocked by filters. Seth Finkelstein, a leading filtering expert, terms it "electronic book burning."
A ruling by the Supreme Court in the Texas sodomy case was expected today but was not issued. A ruling is now expected on Thursday and no later than Monday of next week.