A federal judge this week sided with a Washington library system in a suit that challenged the system's use of Internet filters on computers used by patrons.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Edward F. Shea in Spokane said the North Central Regional Library district's policy on computer use does not violate patrons' First Amendment right to information. (Read the ruling below.)

The American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the district's policy, which includes blocking pornographic websites, saying it is overly broad.

The policy has prevented our plaintiffs ... from accessing perfectly reasonable material, ACLU spokesperson Doug Honig told KING 5 News in February.

But Shea said the policy not only conforms with state law but also does not violate the First Amendment.

He noted that the district's 28 libraries are relatively small in size and only one has a partition separating the children's portion of the library from the remainder of the library. As such, Shea wrote, Blocking Internet sites and pages that contain constitutionally-protected material deemed suitable only for adults helps ensure that the environment at NCRL libraries is consistent with its mission of providing learning and research opportunities for individuals of all ages. This is a legitimate government interest.

Shea also said the library system's practice of requiring a patron to request that a particular web site or page be unblocked is an efficient and rational way for NCRL to determine whether that web site or page is consistentwith its policies and mission, especially in light of the Internet's continuous change.

Another plaintiff in the case was the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, which joined the suit because it said the libraries denied access to websites that include information on firearms and publications dealing with guns.

According to the library district, however, its Internet filters only target pornography and gambling sites.

What we are doing works. It is fair and equitable and the courts have affirmed that it is constitutional, said NCRL's Dan Howard. Our staff goes overboard to provide our patrons the materials and information they want and need. We build community with everything we do.

The NCRL has admitted the filtering policy puts them in the minority. Other libraries have taken the stance of non-censorship, citing First Amendment rights.

District Court Ruling -- North Central Regional Library District (WA) Internet Policy

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