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Once again, the federal judges in Philadelphia are being asked to decide if Congress went too far in its latest attempt to protect children from smut on the Internet. The new law, the Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, requires any library that receives federal funds to install “filtering” software designed to block access to adult Web sites. In a pair of lawsuits filed Tuesday, a broad coalition of libraries, organizations, Internet Web site providers and individuals joined forces to ask that the law be struck down as unconstitutional. “Unfortunately, Congress seems not to learn from its mistakes,” attorney Stefan Presser of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said. In recent years, the ACLU and the American Library Association have successfully challenged two other laws: the Communications Decency Act and the Child Online Protection Act. As with the CDA, the suits challenging CIPA will be assigned to a special three-judge panel consisting of two district court judges and one appellate judge. Both lawsuits Tuesday were assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge John P. Fullam, who has already notified Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Edward R. Becker of the need to assign two more judges. Becker could opt to assign himself to the case, as then-Chief Judge Dolores K. Sloviter did in the CDA case. As for the third judge, Becker may pick one of the three Eastern District judges with experience from one of the two prior cases — Stewart Dalzell or Ronald L. Buckwalter, who sat on the CDA case with Sloviter, or Lowell A. Reed Jr., who handled the COPA case on his own. In a press conference Tuesday, Presser said CIPA is flawed because filtering software such as CyberPatrol and NetNanny simply don’t work — they block out too much and allow some adult sites to get through. Presser cited a recent study of filtering software by Consumer Reports that found that one in five adult sites were not blocked while numerous non-adult sites were. As examples, Presser said, CyberPatrol blocks access to the Web sites for the Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance and for Planned Parenthood. Joining Presser in filing suit on behalf of the Multnomah County Public Library and a large group of libraries, library associations, their patrons and Internet authors and publishers are a team of lawyers from the ACLU’s New York offices — Christopher A. Hansen, Meera E. Deo and Ann Beeson — as well as Charles S. Sims, Stefanie S. Kraus, Andrew L. Lee and Frank Scibilia of Proskauer Rose; David L. Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Center in Washington, D.C.; and Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. The American Library Association’s suit was filed by attorneys Theresa Chmara, Paul M. Smith, Daniel Mach, Katherine A. Fallow and Jennifer S. Martinez of Jenner & Block in Washington, along with Robert A. Nicholas and Wayne C. Stansfield of Reed Smith in Philadelphia and Elliott M. Mincberg of People for the American Way in Washington. “This legislation is about censorship — it’s not about protection,” Chmara said Tuesday. Mincberg said the law will have the same effect as a plan to rip out thousands of pages from the encyclopedias currently on library shelves around the country. “That’s what this law will do to the encyclopedia of the 21st century, the Internet,” Mincberg said. But the conservative Family Research Council defended the law, calling it an effective way to keep children safe from online pornography. “Because of the policies of the American Library Association, public libraries with unrestricted Internet access are virtual peep shows open to kids and funded by taxpayers,” said Jan LaRue, the council’s spokeswoman. But Presser said the law would mean that adults and children who cannot afford Internet access at home will see only a filtered Internet at libraries. “The unintended consequence is the widening of the racial digital divide,” he said. “This affects more African-American children, whose only ability to get online is at the library, giving them less access to information than their Caucasian counterparts,” whose families can afford Internet access at home. With Presser at the press conference were two of his plaintiffs — Sherron Dixon and Tynesha Overby — both African-American students at Philadelphia charter high schools who say they are concerned that a filtered Internet will make it impossible to do school research on such subjects as breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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