Communities across the USA might think their libraries are run by local boards. But increasingly, their authority is being usurped by paternalistic guardians in Washington. That's clear from Monday's Supreme Court decision upholding the right of Congress to require public libraries to install Internet filters on computers so children won't access sexually explicit material.
And Congress is not only enforcing social mores in the town library. In separate legislation, it has empowered federal authorities to conduct secret searches of suspected terrorists' library records — and barred librarians from disclosing the searches to anyone.
While shielding children from pornography and hunting down terrorists are sound objectives, Congress is pursuing them in ham-handed ways that undermine the sense of open inquiry that local libraries are meant to foster.
Lawmakers tried twice before to impose curbs on Internet pornography, and each time the high court objected on grounds that the limits violated free speech protections under the First Amendment. This time, the court ruled in favor of Congress because libraries can refuse to comply if they surrender federal aid, and those that install filters can disable them at the request of patrons. [Privacy Digest]