Senate Approves Internet Filtering Amendment

WASHINGTON (06/28/2000) - Schools and libraries that receive federal funds to help pay for their Internet access would be required to add filtering software to their systems under an amendment to an appropriations bill approved by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate voted 95-3 Tuesday to require schools and libraries receiving so-called "E-rate funds" to use technology that blocks access by minors to obscenity, child pornography and "any other material that the library determines to be inappropriate for minors." The E-rate plan is part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and is designed to place computers with Internet access into schools and classrooms.

The amendment, submitted by Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, comes less than a week after Congress' latest attempt to protect children from harmful material on the Internet -- the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) -- was rejected by an appeals court. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled COPA, signed into law by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1998, unconstitutional. [See "Appeals Court Strikes Down COPA," June 23.]The Senate also approved Tuesday an amendment similar to McCain's that would require that schools and libraries either install blocking technology or adopt acceptable use policies. The amendment, put forth by Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, passed 75-24.

The amendments were added to the appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. The Senate is expected to vote on the full appropriations bill later this week and send it to the joint House-Senate Conference Committee, which would iron out the differences. The bill already has been approved by the House.

Under a third amendment added by the Senate yesterday, ISPs (Internet service providers) with 50,000 or more subscribers would be required to provide filtering software to their customers for free or at cost.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups opposed the McCain mandatory filtering amendment.

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