IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief
P.O. Box 4013
Leesburg, VA 20177
on its own behalf and
on behalf of its members
141 Marlow Street, S.W.
Leesburg, VA 20175
Lincoln, VA 20160
ANN M. CURLEY
39642 Rickard Road
Lovettsville, VA 20180
JUDITH RANDAL HINES
37950 Stevens Road
Lovettsville, VA 20180
411 West J Street
Purcellville, VA 20132
MARY C. DUCHATEAU
1105 Clover Drive
McLean, VA 22101
309 Ashton Drive SW
Leesburg, VA 20175
MICHAEL M. CLAY
38620 Morrisonville Road
Lovettsville, VA 20180
JOHN S. WHITE
300 Newman Court
Sterling, VA 20164
JEROME J. SMITH
505 South Maple Court
Sterling, VA 20164
11216 Georges Mill Road
Lovettsville, VA 20180
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE LOUDOUN
COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY
102 Heritage Way, N.E.
Leesburg, VA 20176-4544
and its members in their official and
JOHN J. NICHOLAS, JR., Chairman
20961 Gulick Mill Road
Leesburg, VA 20175
SPENCER D. AULT, Vice Chairman
107 N. King Street
Leesburg, VA 20176
RICHARD H. BLACK
20978 Flatboat Court
Sterling, VA 20165
11465 Dutchman's Creek Road
Lovettsville, VA 20180
MARY ELLEN VANNEDERYNEN
18 Palmer Court
Sterling, VA 20165
and in his official capacity,
Director of Library Services
102 Heritage Way, N.E.
Leesburg, VA 20176-4544
- Plaintiffs in this action, including parents, citizens, and other public library users
in Loudoun County, seek injunctive and declaratory relief against improper restrictions
imposed by the Defendants that severely censor and limit access to public information that
would otherwise be available through the Internet in Loudoun County public libraries.
Purportedly seeking to limit access to materials that are "pornographic" or
"harmful to minors," Defendants' restrictions improperly limit adults to even
less information than is fit for children, block access to valuable, educational and
constitutionally protected information that has nothing to do with "pornography"
under any definition of that term, fails to promote its purported objectives, and ignores
readily available less restrictive alternatives. While labeling the policy as a
prohibition on "sexual harassment," Defendants' Internet restrictions are far
removed from any legitimate concern with such matters, and their chosen means of
implementation are counterproductive. Defendants' conduct in adopting these Internet
censorship restrictions has injured and continues to injure Plaintiffs in violation of the
First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.
- As explained in one recent decision, the Internet "may well be the premier
technological innovation of the present age." American Libraries Ass'n. v. Pataki,
969 F. Supp. 160, 161 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). "The Internet is a far more speech-enhancing
medium than print, the village green, or the mails." ACLU v. Reno, 929 F.
Supp. 824, 882-883 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (Dalzell, J.), aff'd., 117 S. Ct. 2329 (1997).
The Supreme Court has explained that from the readers' viewpoint, the Internet is
comparable to "a vast library including millions of readily available and indexed
publications." Reno v. ACLU, 117 S. Ct. 2329, 2335 (1997).
- On October 20, 1997, Defendant Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Public Library
("the Board"), voted 5-4 to impose arbitrary and restrictive limits on the
information that patrons may obtain over publicly available Internet access terminals
provided in Loudoun County libraries. The Board adopted what it called a "Policy on
Internet Sexual Harassment" ("the Policy") to prevent library patrons from
accessing certain Internet resources, to be enforced by library staff and by a content
blocking service controlled by a California corporation. The Policy applies the blocking
software at all times for all users, regardless of age, without exception or individual
choice. The Policy expressly threatens library patrons with criminal enforcement if they
attempt to access information that the staff summarily decides is in violation of the
- The Policy is a harsh and censorial solution in search of a problem. Although the Board
had information that less than two-tenths of one percent of the information available over
the Internet is even arguably "pornographic," and even though its investigations
revealed that not a single one of the more than fifteen Virginia libraries it surveyed had
experienced a serious problem with Internet access or had opted for blocking software, the
Board adopted a policy that has been described by "experts [as] among the most
restrictive in the nation." David Nakamura & Jacqueline L. Salmon, Internet
Curbed in Loudoun: Library Board to Block Explicit Material, WASHINGTON POST, Oct. 22,
1997, at A1. The author of the policy, who was assisted by various pro-censorship
organizations, announced his intention to make it a "template" for libraries
across the United States.
- The Policy is inadequate to serve, and in fact undermines, the very purposes for which
it purportedly was adopted. Although it claims to restrict informational materials that
constitute "sexual harassment" or that are "harmful to juveniles," the
means chosen for blocking such information are ill-suited for this purpose, and cannot
implement a legal test for restricting speech. Moreover, because the Board's Policy is
designed with censorship as its primary priority, and requires placement of Internet
terminals in the "full view" of library staff to facilitate enforcement, it
guarantees that patrons and staff will be exposed to whatever images may appear on the
computer screens, including information that they may consider discriminatory or
offensive. Thus, the Policy actually undermines the Board's stated interest in preventing
such "harassment" of staff or patrons.
- The Policy censors much valuable information that has absolutely nothing to do with
pornography. No blocking software designed to restrict access to information on the
Internet can apply the community standards of Loudoun County, much less make the other
legal determinations necessary to pass constitutional muster. The Board was well aware of
this fact and implemented a content blocking service that, even in its own limited tests,
was found to censor dozens of non-pornographic sites, including the home page of the
Society of Friends, the Web site for the Yale University biology department graduate
program, the Web site for the American Association of University Women, and the AIDS quilt
Web site, among many others. Belated attempts to unblock a few of these sites were, and
are woefully inadequate. Additionally, the blocking software selected by the Board
restricts patrons in their use of "search engines" as a tool to conduct
legitimate research on the Internet.
- The Policy greatly restricts the value of the Internet as an informational resource for
Loudoun County library patrons even without the censorial effect of blocking software.
Patrons will be deterred from seeking access to information of a sensitive or personal
nature where, as here, placement of computer terminals forces users to "share"
the information with all passersby. Such information may include Web sites relating to
personal finance, divorce, mental health, safe sex practices, medical questions and a wide
range of other data. At the same time, Defendants have ignored or rejected much less
drastic alternatives to achieve their purported objectives.
- Reviewing the Policy, one member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors who is also
an ex-officio member of the Library Board, alerted his colleagues that "at least some
of those who are advocating blocking software for our libraries eventually wish to impose
censorship on a broad spectrum of ideas and information with which they disagree,
regardless of whether or not those ideas and information are protected by the First
Amendment." He added that "pornography has been merely used as an excuse to
establish the structure by which this censorship can be imposed." As detailed below,
the Policy clearly injures Plaintiffs in violation of the First Amendment.
Jurisdiction and Venue
- This case arises under the Constitution and laws of the United States and presents a
federal question within this Court's jurisdiction under Article III of the Constitution
and 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
- This Court has authority to grant declaratory relief pursuant to the Declaratory
Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201.
- Venue is proper in this judicial district under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).
- Plaintiff Mainstream Loudoun is a non-profit, grassroots membership organization based
in Loudoun County, Virginia that is dedicated to ensuring a free and open society that
preserves religious and personal freedom as established by the U.S. Constitution. The
mission of Mainstream Loudoun includes working to ensure that the public libraries
continue to provide information and resources to serve the diverse needs of the entire
community of Loudoun County residents in their quest for knowledge, inspiration,
enjoyment, and excellence. Mainstream Loudoun sues on its own behalf and on behalf of its
members, who include teachers, authors, artists, community leaders, volunteers, parents
and grandparents of minors, and other individuals who use the Loudoun County public
- Many Mainstream Loudoun members regularly depend on and use the free and wide range of
information and resources at the public libraries. Many members already have attempted to
use, or intend to use the Internet and its vast resources at the public library for these
purposes. Mainstream Loudoun and its members have been harmed and continue to be harmed by
Defendants' Policy that blocks their access to valuable information that would otherwise
be available to them, and that imposes privacy, stigma and other burdens on their ability
to access desired information Mainstream Loudoun's members' individual interests in
obtaining such information over the Internet, and in not being subjected to unnecessary
burdens on their use of the library, are germane to the organizational purpose of
Mainstream Loudoun. Neither the claims asserted nor the relief requested herein requires
the participation of Mainstream Loudoun's members in order to vindicate their individual
- Plaintiffs Judy Coughlin, Henry Taylor, Ann M. Curley, Judith Randal Hines, Loren
Kropat, Mary C. DuChateau, Kathryn Kern-Levine, Michael M. Clay, John S. White, Jerry
Smith and Mary Adams (collectively, "the individual Plaintiffs") are citizens of
the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and, except for Ms. DuChateau,
residents of Loudoun County, Virginia. All of the individual Plaintiffs use the public
libraries and are harmed by Defendants' Policy for several reasons, including but not
limited to the following:
- they have been and will be denied access to a substantial amount of otherwise available,
constitutionally protected information and have been relegated to viewing even less
information than what is suitable for children;
- they are deprived of the ability to choose for themselves and their families what
constitutionally protected information they can read in the public libraries; and
- they have been burdened and inhibited significantly in their use of the Internet
because, among other reasons, the Policy intentionally deprives library Internet users of
privacy, requires library staff to monitor Internet use, and imposes potential criminal
sanctions on users whom library staff believe have violated the Policy.
- Plaintiff Judy Coughlin has been a Loudoun County resident for 26 years and is a member
of the Rust Library Advisory Board. Ms. Coughlin is employed as a technical writer at
Sprint Corporation and also does freelance writing and editing in her own time. Ms.
Coughlin has two children who have graduated from Loudoun County schools and was active in
the Parent Teachers Association while her children were in school. Ms. Coughlin was
diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 and has used and intends to continue to use the
Internet at the public library for up-to-date research on breast cancer and breast
reconstruction information and treatments. Defendants' Policy harms Ms. Coughlin by
denying her full access to valuable information that she would like to obtain and by the
lack of privacy of having the terminals placed out in the open without privacy screens
which inhibits her ability to view sensitive medical and other information.
- Plaintiff Henry Taylor is a native of Loudoun County who attended county public schools
through the ninth grade and has resided in the county for the last 18 years. Mr. Taylor is
a writer, poet, and professor of literature and writing, who has published several books
and received a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for one of his books of poetry, The Flying Change.
Professor Taylor regularly uses the Purcellville and Rust libraries for research,
teaching, and personal learning, and has already been harmed in his use of the Internet at
the public libraries for these purposes by the blocking of constitutionally protected
information as a result of Defendants' Policy.
- Plaintiff Ann M. Curley has lived with her husband in Loudoun County for over 13 years,
has three children and three grandchildren. Ms. Curley has had a long career in public
service including working over 5 years in the Loudoun County's Sheriff's office, serving
as President of local League of Women Voters chapters in two communities, and working over
15 years for the federal government in areas that include equal opportunity, sexual
harassment and women's programs. Ms. Curley and her husband go to the Loudoun County
public library often for research and educational purposes, and have used and plan to use
the Internet for these purposes. While they own a computer, Ms. Curley and her husband do
not have Internet access at home and thus can only access the Internet and its resources
at the public libraries. Ms. Curley is harmed by Defendants' Policy because it prevents
her and her family from choosing to have unfiltered access to the Internet consistent with
their family values.
- Plaintiff Judith Randal Hines has lived in Loudoun County with her husband for over ten
years. Ms. Hines, who currently is a freelance science journalist, has worked for several
newspapers as a science reporter and served as past president of the National Association
of Science Writers and a board member of the Council for the Advancement of Science
Writing. In addition, Ms. Hines has been active in the community as a graduate of the
Leadership Loudoun program and serving as a member of the Board of the Preservation
Society of Loudoun County for more than ten years. Ms. Hines uses the Loudoun County
public libraries frequently for both professional and personal educational purposes and
has used the Internet for work purposes and plans to do so in the future. Many government
and other documents of interest to Ms. Hines for her work are now available only through
the Internet. Defendants' Policy injures her ability to receive information and to do so
in a timely fashion via the Internet.
- Plaintiff Loren Kropat has resided in Loudoun County for 18 years and is a member of the
Purcellville Town Council. Mr. Kropat and his wife have two children, a son who is
thirteen years old and a daughter who is nine. Mr. Kropat is a regular and frequent user
of the Purcellville Library, visiting over 50 times a year. Mr. Kropat and his children
use the Internet for research and educational purposes. Mr. Kropat and his daughter
already have used and they and his son also plan to use the Internet at the public
library. Mr. Kropat is harmed by not having access to constitutionally protected and
valuable information for his research and educational purposes and by the lack of privacy
caused by Defendant's policy of locating the computer terminals in the open and having
librarians monitor their use, thus inhibiting his research into business matters, medical
information affecting his family, and other personal matters. Mr. Kropat has already been
harmed by not being able to access a number of desired research sites that contain
constitutionally protected information when using the Internet at the public library. Mr.
Kropat also has been harmed by not being permitted to decide as a parent what information
his children can read over the Internet in the public libraries.
- Plaintiff Mary C. DuChateau has worked in the Loudoun County public school system for
over 20 years, first as a substitute teacher and then two years as a history and
government teacher and then over 20 years as a School Library Media Specialist. As a
professional librarian with a Masters Degree in Library Sciences, Ms. DuChateau is
particularly concerned about how Defendants' Internet Policy will harm teachers in
researching and formulating lesson plans and assignments and how it will harm students who
are learning how to use the Internet to research and complete school assignments. Ms.
DuChateau also is especially worried about the competitive disadvantage that Loudoun
students will be put in academically and professionally as compared to their peers in
other localities, most all of which permit open access to the Internet's resources. Ms.
DuChateau has used the Internet at the Sterling Branch public library. While trying to
research controversial topics that have been assigned in the past by teachers at Park View
High School, Ms. DuChateau found that much useful non-pornographic information for
students was blocked by the X-Stop software.
- Plaintiff Kathryn A. Kern-Levine and her husband have lived in Loudoun County since late
1993. Ms. Kern-Levine has served as Secretary of the Parents Teacher Association and a
regular volunteer at her son's public school in Leesburg. Ms. Kern-Levine worked as a
Child Development Program Assistant for the United States Navy in California and ran a
licensed child care business in Loudoun County from 1995 to 1997. In addition, Ms.
Kern-Levin has served on the Loudoun County Public Schools Textbook Selection Committee,
has been active in her local temple, and has volunteered many hours at the Loudoun County
Abused Women's Shelter. Ms. Kern-Levine is harmed by defendants' policy both in the
limitations on her own use of the Internet and because the policy deprives her as a parent
from choosing to permit her son to use unfiltered Internet access at the public libraries
where he works on school reports and assignments.
- Plaintiff Michael M. Clay and his wife have resided in Loudoun County for ten years and
his ancestors date back to Loudoun County for over 200 years. Mr. Clay and his wife have
two sons, ages nine and five, who attend Loudoun County public schools. Mr. Clay is a
sculptor currently employed at a bronze foundry located in Leesburg, Virginia. Mr. Clay
frequently uses the Internet in connection with his work to obtain information on art
history, art processes, and gallery opportunities. Mr. Clay, his wife who is a teacher,
and his eldest son use the Internet for research, school and personal interests such as
their son's interests in sports, aviation, and automobiles. Mr. Clay is harmed by
Defendants' Policy because it deprives him of valuable information for work and personal
learning, and because it deprives him as a parent of the ability to decide what
information his sons can read over the Internet in the public libraries.
- Plaintiff John S. White has resided in Loudoun County for over 20 years. He and his wife
have an 18 year old daughter who just entered college. Mr. White is a professional
firefighter and currently serves as a battalion Chief in a large, northern Virginia
municipal fire department where he has worked for over 25 years. Mr. White also is a
Vietnam Veteran. Mr. White does not have a computer or Internet access at his home and has
used and plans to use the Internet at Loudoun County public libraries. Defendants' Policy
has already harmed Mr. White when he was blocked from obtaining information over the
Internet at the Loudoun County public library, including a book dealing with the issue of
sexual content and the law of cyberspace, for educational and personal purposes.
- Plaintiff Jerome J. Smith has resided with his wife in Loudoun County for over 20 years.
Mr. Smith and his wife have a daughter who is 15 years old who attends a Loudoun County
public high school and uses the public libraries for school and personal educational
purposes. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are both teachers in Loudoun County public high schools. Mr.
Smith teaches physical education, CPR, and other courses at Broad Run High School and
coaches the school's football team. Mr. Smith uses the public library for professional and
educational purposes and he and his daughter intend to use the Internet at the public
library for these same purposes. Mr. Smith is injured by Defendants' Policy because it
prevents him from having full access to the Internet at the library and from deciding with
his family what information his daughter may or may not read on the Internet at the public
- Plaintiff Mary Adams has resided in Loudoun County for ten years. Ms. Adams has four
children, three of whom live in Loudoun County, and nine grandchildren, of whom four live
in the county. Two of her grandsons, ages ten and eight, live with Ms. Adams and attend
Loudoun County public schools. Ms. Adams has no computer or Internet access at home. Ms.
Adams' grandsons use the public libraries for school assignments and other educational
purposes and will use the Internet at the public libraries for these same purposes. Ms.
Adams is injured by Defendants' Policy because it prevents her and her family from being
able to choose unfiltered access to the Internet's resources for her grandchildren
consistent with their family values.
- Defendant Board of Trustees of The Loudoun County Public Library ("the Board")
is a governmental entity responsible for oversight of the Loudoun County Public Library
("the Library") and which adopted the Policy at issue in this case. Defendants
John J. Nicholas, Jr., Spencer D. Ault, Richard H. Black, Chris Howlett and Mary Ellen
VanNederynen are members of the Board who voted to adopt the Policy. Defendant Nicholas is
the Board's Chairman. Defendant Douglas Henderson is the Director of Library Services and
is responsible for the operation of the Library and implementation of the Policy. The
individual Board members are sued here in their official and personal capacities.
Defendant Henderson is sued here in his official capacity.
The Nature of the Internet
- As the United States Supreme Court explained earlier this year, the Internet is a unique
and wholly new medium of worldwide human communication. Any person with access to the
Internet may take advantage of a wide variety of communication and information retrieval
methods. This unique medium, known to its users as cyberspace, is located in no particular
geographical location, but is available to anyone, anywhere in the world with access. It
is no exaggeration to conclude that the content of the Internet is as diverse as human
thought. Reno v. ACLU, 117 S. Ct. 2329, 2334-35 (1997).
- The Internet is a "network of networks" that links millions of host computers
around the world. Each host computer on the Internet may be linked to smaller local
networks, such as office networks, that typically link several computers, or to individual
computers that connect over conventional phone lines. Although the Internet originated
with research funding provided by the Department of Defense, the private sector took over
control of maintaining the Internet in April 1995. It has been estimated that more than 50
million people use the Internet today and that by the year 2000, up to 200 million people
will use the Internet.
- Despite the growth of the Internet, many people do not own or cannot afford a personal
computer. The only access available for many people will be in a public institution, such
as a library. Some surveys have found that, after individual households, public libraries
represent the location where most people gain access to the Internet. Many communities and
local libraries provide free access to the Internet.
- The best known category of communications over the Internet is the World Wide Web, which
allows users to search for and retrieve information stored in remote computers. The Web
consists of a vast number of documents stored in different computers all over the world.
It has been estimated that there are at least 300 million Web pages available to Internet
users, and the number is growing rapidly. Further estimates suggest that several thousand
pages are added to the World Wide Web every day.
- As the District Court in ACLU v. Reno concluded, the Web "was created to
serve as the platform for a global, online store of knowledge, containing information from
a diversity of sources and accessible to Internet users around the world. Though
information on the Web is contained in individual computers, the fact that each of these
computers is connected to the Internet through [World Wide Web] protocols allows all of
the information to become part of a single body of knowledge." ACLU v. Reno,
929 F. Supp. 824, 836 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (finding of fact #34), aff'd, 117 S. Ct. 2329
- Web pages are accessed on a computer by a software application called a
"browser." To access the Web over a browser, the user types in the address for a
particular Web page, called the Uniform Resource Locator ("URL"). When a Web
page appears on the browser, the user may access other information at that site, or may
access other Web sites by clicking on highlighted text, known as hypertext links. Links on
a Web page are used to lead from overview documents to more detailed documents, from
tables of contents to particular pages, and also as cross-references, footnotes and new
forms of information structure.
- Many organizations now have "home pages" on the Web. These are documents which
provide a set of links designed to represent the organization, and through links from the
home page, guide the user directly or indirectly to information about, or relevant to,
that organization. Entities that publish information on the Internet include government
agencies, educational institutions, commercial entities, advocacy groups and individuals.
Web publishing is simple enough that thousands of individual users and small community
organizations publish their own Web pages. Mainstream Loudoun publishes a Web page located
- A variety of systems allow users of the Web to search for particular information among
all of the public sites that are part of the Web. Services such as Yahoo, Magellan, Alta
Vista, Webcrawler, Lycos and Info Seek provide services called "search engines"
that allow users to search for Web sites that contain certain categories of information.
Through the use of key words, the search engine will display a list of Web sites that
potentially contain the desired information. The user can then follow the individual
links, browsing through the information at each site until the desired material is found.
- Although the Internet has no centralized control point, from the user's perspective it
appears to be a "single, integrated system." Unlike most computer database
systems, the computers on the World Wide Web are "linked together into a single
whole." ACLU v. Reno, 929 F. Supp. at 838 (findings of fact #46-47).
"Links from one computer to another from one document to another across the Internet,
are what unify the Web into a single body of knowledge, and what makes the Web
unique." Id. at 836-837.
- The Supreme Court found that the Web is comparable, from the reader's viewpoint, to a
vast library including millions of readily available and indexed publications. Reno v.
ACLU, 117 S. Ct. at 2335.
- Access to most Web pages is freely available, but some pages limit access only to those
who have purchased the right from a commercial provider.
- There is a trend for certain documents to be produced only in electronic form and not in
print. A growing number of government documents are no longer available in paper form but
are accessible on the Internet. For such documents, accessibility by the public requires
- Sexually oriented material is available on the Internet, ranging from the modestly
titillating to very explicit material. Measured in terms of total content on the Internet,
such sexually explicit material represents far less than one percent. The percentage of
sexually explicit material represents a declining proportion of total material available
on the Internet.
- Such sexually explicit material includes far more than what might be characterized
colloquially as "pornography." The Supreme Court identified various examples of
this, including nude photographs by Edward Weston and Robert Mapplethorpe posted by the
UCR/California Museum of Photography, and safer sex instructions that the Critical Path
posts to its Web site, written in street language so that teenagers can understand them. Reno
v. ACLU, 117 S. Ct. at 2336.
- Although the Supreme Court found that sexually explicit material is widely available, it
also concluded that users seldom encounter such material accidentally. Almost all sexually
explicit images are preceded by warnings as to the content. Accordingly, the Court found
that odds are slim that a user would enter a sexually explicit site by accident.
- The Internet provides information on topics that might be considered offensive or
harmful by some that has nothing to do with pornography. Such information might include
graphic anti-abortion imagery, sites depicting surgical procedures, sites opposing
vivi-section, anti-war displays and other such sites.
- The Internet provides information on topics that include sensitive or personal
information that a user would not want to share with all other library patrons or staff in
the vicinity of the computer terminal. Such information might include information on
mental health, medical conditions, divorce, adoption, drug dependency, alcoholism,
religion, sexual practices, AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases, personal
finances and many other topics.
- The Internet is a medium of speech entitled to full First Amendment protection. In Reno
v. ACLU, 117 S. Ct. 2329 (1997), the Supreme Court held that two provisions of the
Communications Decency Act ("CDA") that restricted speech upon the Internet
violated the First Amendment. In so doing, the Court determined that there is no basis for
qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny that should be applied to the Internet
and, in fact, the Court applied its most stringent form of First Amendment review to the
- The Supreme Court found that lack of precision in the regulation of Internet content was
a matter of special concern. The Court found that an imprecise standard would cover large
amounts of non-pornographic material that has serious educational or other value, that
such regulation would fail to take into account local community standards, and that it
would lead to censorship of such subject matter as "any of the seven 'dirty words'
used in the [FCC v.] Pacifica [Foundation] monologue, . . . discussions about prison rape
or safe sexual practices, artistic images that include nude subjects, and arguably the
card catalogue of the Carnegie Library." Reno v. ACLU, 117 S. Ct. at 2344,
2348. The Court was also concerned that an uncertain standard would affect discussion of
subjects such as birth control practices and homosexuality.
Content Blocking Software
- Software filters are computer programs that block access to Internet sites.
- Although there are several types of content filters, one popular type is known as a
stand-alone proprietary filtering system. Such a system employs computer software that
works in conjunction with a Web browser to block specified types of information.
Stand-alone filters block sites based on criteria provided by the filtering software
- All Web content rating systems depend on the exercise of subjective human judgment to
decide what content is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
- Stand-alone proprietary blocking software prevents access to content on the Internet in
one of two ways. One method is to block lists of unacceptable sites. The second method
blocks sites based on specified key words. Software filters, whether based on
site-blocking or key word blocking, are designed solely to block access to information and
specific content or viewpoints.
- Site-based blocking software operates by blocking specified categories of Internet
content established by the software vendor. Some Internet filtering software products
block as few as six categories of information, while others block up to 29 or more
categories. Blocked categories may include hate speech, criminal activity, sexually
explicit information, "adult" information, information on violence, or
information on alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality. Lists of unacceptable sites
are compiled and maintained by the filtering software vendor.
- Some software filtering vendors employ individuals to decide which sites should be
blocked. Other blocking software vendors use automated tools to identify which sites to
block. These methods may be used in combination.
- Filtering software vendors that employ site-based blocking generally treat their
blocking criteria as a trade secret. Accordingly, most vendors do not reveal their list of
blocked sites. Filtering software that employs site-based blocking must be updated
constantly to keep up with changes in content available on the Internet.
- Key word-based content filtering uses text searches to classify objectionable sites. If
a site contains an unacceptable word or phrase, it is blocked by the filter. Content
blocking software also may function to limit the ability of a search engine to retrieve a
listing of Web sites in response to a search request.
- Filtering software that uses key words cannot evaluate the context in which those words
are used. For example, some software filters that use key words have blocked access to the
White House Web site because it used the word "couples." Such software has also
blocked information relating to breast cancer because of the word "breast."
- Filtering software blocks access to Internet content in advance of any judicial test of
the legal status of the blocked information and without any assessment by a court or jury
as to local community standards.
The Loudoun County Public Library
- The Loudoun County public library system serves the population of Loudoun County,
Virginia through six branches as well as outreach services. Library branches are located
in Leesburg, Cascades, Purcellville, Sterling, Lovettsville and Middleburg. In 1997,
approximately 966,000 citizens visited Loudoun County libraries and checked out more than
1.7 million books, magazines, videos, audiocassettes and CDs. In November 1997, the
library began to offer Internet access through nine public terminals located at the six
- As the library's governing body, the Board has adopted policies with respect to the
development of library resources and use thereof by patrons. A policy entitled
"Freedom for Ideas -- Freedom From Censorship" was adopted by the Board on May
15, 1995 and reaffirmed on January 27, 1997. The policy quotes the First Amendment to the
United States Constitution, and states that "[t]his guarantees to the American people
that all ideas can be promulgated and are available to all who seek them." The policy
contains a number of specific propositions, including, in relevant part: (1) "It is
in the public interest to maintain a library collection in various media, offering the
widest possible diversity of views and expressions. The selection and development of the
Library collection is not to be diminished because minors might have access to materials
with controversial content;" (2) "Materials shall not be excluded from the
collection because of the nature of the information or views presented therein, nor the
political orientation of their content. Furthermore, materials shall not be excluded
because of the moral, religious or political beliefs of their writer, publisher or film
maker, nor does their inclusion in the collection imply endorsement of all the ideas
presented therein;" (3) "[T]he rights and responsibilities of parents or legal
guardians will neither be abridged nor assumed by the library system;" and (4)
"Censorship of ideas will be rejected and opposed by the library system."
- A "Policy on Collection Development" was revised on January 23, 1995 and
reaffirmed on January 27, 1997. According to that policy, it is "[t]he goal of
Loudoun Public Libraries . . . to provide the citizens of Loudoun County with a range of
materials in a variety of print and non-print formats to meet their informational,
cultural, educational, and recreational needs and interests." The collection policy
expressly endorses the "Freedom For Ideas -- Freedom From Censorship" policy,
and adds that "[i]ndividual use of library materials is a private and personal
matter. All citizens are free to reject for themselves materials of which they may
disapprove; no citizen may restrict the freedom of use and access for others." The
policy adds that "[r]esponsibility for the reading, listening, and viewing of library
materials by children rests with their parents or legal guardians and not with the library
staff. Selection of library materials is not inhibited by the possibility that materials
may come into the possession of children."
- A "Policy on Confidentiality" was revised by the Board on February 26, 1996
and reaffirmed on January 27, 1997. The policy provides that "[c]onfidentiality of
all patrons' library use will be maintained. In the case of children under 17, parents
and/or legal guardians shall have complete access to their minor child's records in order
that unnecessary obstacles will not be placed between parent and child by the
Development of Library's Internet Policy
- At some time in spring, 1997, Defendant Henderson began making arrangements for the
initiation of public Internet access in the Loudoun County Library system.
- At the Board's May 19, 1997 meeting, Defendant Henderson reported to the Board on
developments relating to Internet access and presented to the Board a proposed Internet
policy that would have provided unrestricted access to the Internet at the Library. The
draft policy stated that "[i]n providing access to the Internet, the Loudoun County
Public Library subscribes to and fully supports the FREEDOM FOR IDEAS -- FREEDOM
FROM CENSORSHIP policy adopted by the Loudoun County Public Library's Board of
Trustees." (emphasis in original). At its May 19, 1997 meeting, the Board formed an
Internet Policy Committee to consider issues relating to Internet access in Loudoun County
- Defendant Black handed out a formal statement opposing the proposed Internet use policy
at the May 19, 1997 Board meeting which demonstrated that he had reached his final
conclusions regarding the policy prior to any committee deliberations. Among other things,
Defendant Black wrote, "I'm certain the Board does not wish to use tax dollars to
subsidize 'child pornography, bestiality, violence, and Nazi images,' such as those for
which one Compuserve official now faces probable indictment by German authorities."
- The proposed Internet policy was made available for public comment. The Internet Policy
Committee received public comments on the proposed policy in meetings on June 11 and 12,
1997. The Board discussed the proposed Internet policy and public comments regarding the
proposal at its June 16, 1997 meeting, but did not formally vote on the policy.
- In the course of evaluating the proposed policy, representatives of the Internet Policy
Committee contacted at least fifteen other libraries in the State of Virginia. None of the
library systems contacted had adopted an Internet policy that required the use of blocking
- None of the libraries contacted by Loudoun County had experienced a significant problem
with patrons seeking to access "pornography." Only one library reported a single
incident of a patron taking offense. That library solved the problem by installing
"privacy screens" on Internet access terminals to prevent patrons other than the
one using the computer from viewing information on the screen.
- In a July 17, 1997 letter to the Board, Plaintiff Mainstream Loudoun strongly supported
the proposed Internet policy drafted by Defendant Henderson. The letter said that
"[i]f the Library Board decides to install filtering software, it should be offered
as an optional tool for patrons to request." The letter added that "[i]ndividual
library patrons have the right to decide what they and their children access on the
Internet, not the government and not private industry." Plaintiff Mainstream Loudoun
also wrote to the board in support of a proposed Internet policy that would have required
minors to obtain written parental permission before being allowed to use library computers
for Internet access without filtering software. Mainstream Loudoun's proposed policy
further provided that adults would be granted Internet access without software filters,
unless an individual patron requested such filtering be activated.
- On July 21, 1997, the Board adopted an "Internet Use Policy" (hereinafter,
"the initial policy"). The initial policy provided that the Library's computers
would be equipped with screening software designed to prevent access to material that is
indecent, creates a hostile environment, or "exposes those of tender age to violent
or sexually explicit text and imagery." Under the initial policy, adults would have
been able to obtain unfiltered access to the Internet for a specific session upon request
to the library staff. The initial policy stated that minors could obtain unfiltered
Internet access only if a parent or legal guardian gave permission and was physically
present with the minor for the duration of that specific session.
- The Board adopted the initial policy over the objection of the Director of Library
- On September 3, 1997, Mainstream Loudoun sent a letter to Chairman Nicholas and all the
members of the Library Board detailing the various constitutional and policy problems with
the newly adopted Internet Use Policy and urging the Board to reconsider and rescind the
policy. In the letter, Mainstream Loudoun reiterated its less restrictive proposal that
would permit adults and parents to decide for themselves and their children whether to
choose filtered or unfiltered access to the Internet in the public libraries consistent
with individual choice and family values.
- At a public meeting held on September 15, 1997, the Board voted to reconsider the
initial policy. At the same meeting, the Board considered, but did not vote upon, another
proposal under which Library computers would be "equipped with screening software
that attempts to avoid obscene or unlawful materials." As with the July 21, 1997
policy, this proposal called for placing Internet computer terminals "in full public
view of library staff to discourage inappropriate use."
- On or about October 16, 1997, Defendant Black circulated to certain Board members a
draft policy entitled "Policy on Internet Sexual Harassment." The draft policy
was proposed for consideration at the October 20, 1997 Board meeting. Defendant Black has
stated that he was assisted in drafting the Policy by the National Law Center for Children
- On October 19, 1997 James Burton, a member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors,
and ex-officio member of the Library Board, sent a memorandum to Library Board members
regarding the proposed Internet policy. The memorandum reminded Board members that as
public officials they must comply with constitutional requirements and stated that
"the draft policy proposed by Mr. Black does precisely what the Supreme Court says
cannot legally be done. If I read Mr. Black's proposal correctly, he would employ
filtering software, with no option to turn it off, that restricts protected as well as
unprotected speech with the net effect of reducing the material that is available to
adults to the level of what is appropriate for children." In his October 19, 1997
memorandum to the members of the Library Board, Supervisor Burton stated that
"despite claims to the contrary, no software exists that would block all unprotected
speech and only unprotected speech. In other words, material that should be blocked will
get through, and material that legally should not be blocked, will be blocked."
- In his October 19, 1997 memo to the Board, Supervisor Burton suggested that "it
would be prudent to seek formal legal counsel with respect to any policy you choose before
it becomes official." He added "I strongly recommend that you ask the County
Attorney and/or an outside expert to review whatever policy you develop."
- At its October 20, 1997 public meeting, the Board voted to adopt the current
"Policy on Internet Sexual Harassment" ("the Policy"), drafted by
Defendant Black. The Policy was adopted by a vote of 5 to 4. Defendants Nicholas, Black,
Ault, and VanNederynen voted to adopt the policy. A copy of the Policy is attached hereto.
- Various Board members stated at the October 20, 1997 meeting that there had been
inadequate time to consider the Policy adopted at that meeting.
- The Policy provides that Internet filtering software designed to block access to
specific sites on the Internet "will be installed on all computers."
- The Policy states that the filtering software will "to the extent technically
feasible" block "child pornography and obscene material (hard core
pornography)" and "material deemed Harmful to Juveniles under applicable
Virginia statutes and legal precedents (soft core pornography)."
- The Policy does not define the terms "child pornography," "obscene
material," "hard core pornography," "material Harmful to
Juveniles," or "soft core pornography."
- The Policy states that the Library's computers will be placed "in close proximity
to, and in full view of, library staff" so that staff can monitor use of the Internet
by Library patrons.
- The Policy asserts that allowing Library patrons unrestricted access to the Internet
could create a sexually hostile environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964.
- The Policy does not allow an adult to access the Internet without blocking software
under any circumstances. Even with the blocking software, library users under age 18 must
obtain written permission before using the library Internet terminals.
- Library patrons who seek to access prohibited information under the Policy will be told
by library staff that they are in violation, and if they continue, will be told to leave
the library. If such patrons do not leave, the Policy states that they will be considered
in trespass and police will be called to remove them from the premises.
- Defendants Black and Nicholas both stated at the October 20, 1997 Board meeting that
filtering software is "not perfect." Defendant Nicholas acknowledged that some
"pornographic" material would evade the filter and that some constitutionally
protected material would be blocked.
- On October 22, 1997, after the Board adopted the Internet policy, Supervisor Burton sent
a memo to other members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors regarding the Internet
Policy. In the memorandum, Supervisor Burton stated: "Our County Attorney attended
the Trustee's Meeting Monday evening to give advice if asked. Mr. Roberts [the County
Attorney] was asked no questions, either at the meeting or prior to it at any time, about
the legality or wisdom of Trustee Black's proposed policy which had been introduced for
the first time that evening." Supervisor Burton added that "[n]o attempt was
made to seek outside legal advice even though I had requested Trustees to do so."
- Defendants either refused to consider or rejected less restrictive alternatives for
achieving its purported objectives. For example, the Board refused to consider the
proposal made on several occasions by Mainstream Loudoun, including during public session
at Board meetings and in the September 3, 1997 letter referenced above, that would require
written parental permission for minors to have unfiltered Internet access and would permit
adults and parents to decide for themselves and for their children whether to choose
filtered or unfiltered access to the Internet in the public libraries. In addition, with
respect to the current policy's stated concerns about sexual harassment, even if the mere
presence of something on a computer screen that was offensive to an employee could somehow
be considered harassment, defendants failed to consider any alternatives such as placing
the computer terminals in a private location or utilizing "privacy screens" that
would prevent employees and patrons not using the Internet from viewing a user's computer
screen. To the contrary, defendants' Policy directly undermines the purported objectives
relating to "sexual harassment" by requiring that the Internet computer
terminals be placed "in close proximity to, and in full view of" library staff
and by requiring that library staff monitor use of the Internet to identify, stop, and, if
necessary, eject violators by calling the police to remove them for criminal trespass.
- Supervisor Burton's October 22, 1997 memorandum to the County Board of Supervisors noted
that the Library Board's rejection of alternatives to software filters "suggest very
strongly that something other than removing pornography from accessibility is the issue
driving this policy."
Implementation of the Policy
- In late November 1997, the Library Director selected a vendor for content blocking
software and installed the blocking software on library computers before making Internet
access available to the public in the Loudoun County library system.
- The library administration selected blocking software called X-Stop. X-Stop is a product
created and sold by Log-On Data Corporation ("Log-On"), whose principal place of
business is located at 4175 East La Palma Avenue, Suite 130, Anaheim, CA 92807.
Promotional material for Log-On Data Corporation states that all management personnel of
the company are graduate engineers, scientists, or researchers.
- The version of X-Stop installed on library computers is designated "X-Stop 95/NT
- Various groups that support Internet censorship have advocated the use of X-Stop in
public libraries on a nationwide basis. Enough is Enough has endorsed the use of content
blocking software in general, and X-Stop specifically. The American Family Association
announced that it formed an alliance with Log-On Data Corporation to promote X-Stop as an
Internet content blocking tool.
- One method that X-Stop uses to block access to information on the Internet is through a
list of specific Web sites that are blocked. Log-On adds Websites to its blocking list for
X-Stop by use of a computerized searching program it calls MudCrawler. Log-On describes
MudCrawler as a "propriety automation system" that is "a combination of
virtual entities that Log-On Data Corp. has perfected to search the Internet for hard-core
pornography and other offensive addresses." The company claims that X-Stop has the
largest available hard-core pornography and other offensive site blocking library.
Promotional material for Log-On states that X-Stop "is not a filter but a combination
of 16 technological devices which effectively and reliably screen out hard-core
pornography and other offensive sites on the Internet."
- The rating system used by Log-On to implement X-STOP blocking software is proprietary
and is a trade secret of Log-On. Web sites identified by MudCrawler are assessed by
employees of Log-On who determine if the site is "pornographic." Log-On claims
to access thousands of new Web sites each week to add sites to its blocked list.
- Promotional material for Log-On claims to have created a library of blocked sites that
includes "over 50,000 in the categories included in the librarian version of
X-Stop." Promotional material for Log-On asserts that the librarian edition of X-Stop
"is equipped only with the 'felony load' of blocked addresses, so that only sites
qualifying under the Miller [v. California] standard are blocked." Promotional
material for Log-On claims that the librarian edition of X-Stop only blocks Web sites that
show sexual acts, bestiality, and child pornography. It claims that "[l]egimate art
or education sites are not blocked by the library edition, nor are so-called "soft
porn" or "R"-rated sites."
- Promotional material for Log-On states that the foremost way in which almost all users
of the Internet retrieve information is through the use of search engines. It adds that
"[w]ithout the use of Internet search engines, meaningful retrieval of relevant
information is almost an impossibility," and that "most Internet filtering
systems have not found a way in which to block use of Internet search engines without
completely eliminating their use. Without the use of these search tools, effective,
positive, productive use of the Internet can quickly become an impossibility. It is
absolutely essential to have these tools available."
- A second way that X-Stop blocks access to Internet information relates to the use of
Internet search engines. Promotional information for Log-On states that X-Stop also
includes a search engine monitor. It describes the monitor as "an intuitive proximity
logic device." Log-On states that: "X-Stop knows when the user is entering an
Internet search engine. Normally, 'OK' words are not always 'OK' in key word searches. The
X-Stop device monitors most, if not all, of the world's Internet search engines. Any
attempt to use words that have been found to lead to danger, indecent or offensive
material is blocked. X-Stop in effect allows only wholesome searches."
- On or about October 6, 1997, an article by Jonathan Wallace appeared on the Web site
"The Ethical Spectacle" (www.spectacle.org) entitled "The X-Stop
Files." The article listed a number of Web sites blocked by the "felony
load" X-Stop librarian edition including sites hosted by the Society of Friends, the
Banned Books page at Carnegie Mellon University, the American Association of University
Women, the AIDS Quilt Site, the Heritage Foundation Web site, the University of Chicago's
Fileroom Project, which tracks acts of censorship around the world, and numerous others.
- On November 20, 1997, Supervisor James Burton sent a memo to the county board of
supervisors entitled "Censorship on Library Internet Computers." In the
memorandum Supervisor Burton stated that "[d]uring the library staff evaluation, the
X-STOP software blocked 57 sites that had nothing to do with pornography; sites that
contain speech protected by the First Amendment. One of those blocked sites was the Quaker
Home Page at www.quaker.org. As an experiment, I went to that site on the net and found
the attached piece written by Jonathan Wallace."
- The article by Jonathan Wallace to which Supervisor Burton referred in his November 20,
1997 memorandum was the article described in paragraph 96 above which listed
non-pornographic Web sites blocked by X-STOP.
- In his November 20, 1997 memorandum to the County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor
Burton stated that "[i]t has been and continues to be my fear that at least some of
those who are advocating blocking software for our libraries eventually wish to impose
censorship on a broad spectrum of ideas and information with which they disagree,
regardless of whether or not those ideas and information are protected by the First
Amendment. I believe pornography has been merely used as an excuse to establish the
structure by which this censorship can be imposed, with that structure being software
controlled by unnamed individuals with unknown political, social, cultural and moral
beliefs in a company in California."
- Local press accounts revealed that the blocking software in the Loudoun County library
system blocked non-pornographic Web sites, including the home page for the Society of
- In the wake of press reports about the use of X-Stop in the Loudoun County libraries,
Mike Bradshaw, Chief Executive Officer of Log-On was contacted about the blocking of
harmless Web sites.
- Mr. Bradshaw stated that the inappropriate blocking of non-pornographic Web sites was
caused by "human error." Mr. Bradshaw stated that X-Stop was designed to block
access only to hard-core pornographic sites, and not sites that are considered
- In response to the press reports concerning inappropriate blocking in the Loudoun County
library system, Mr. Bradshaw contacted a regional sales manager for Log-On who was
attending a White House Summit on Internet filtering in Washington, D.C. on December 2 and
- The representative of Log-On visited the Loudoun County library system as a result of
this communication, and he unblocked a number of Web sites on the Loudoun County system.
- Even after a number of Web sites were removed from the blocked site list, Plaintiffs
found that the X-Stop filter at Loudoun County libraries continued to block a number of
Web sites that have nothing to do with pornography. Examples include the Yale University
biology graduate school Web site, the Zero Population Growth Web site, a Web site for a
Massachusetts Institute of Technology course entitled "Ethics and Law on the
Electronic Frontier," the Safer Sex education Web site and a Mormon Church Web site
on the prevention of masturbation. Although the Web site for the American Association of
University Women was removed from the blocked list, the Web site for the American
Association of University Women -- Maryland continued to be censored.
Experience Under the Content Blocking Policy
- Loudoun County library patrons who wish to access the Internet are required to sign a
lengthy policy statement concerning the Internet policy and sexual harassment. A special
sticker is placed on the library cards of patrons who sign the form.
- The Internet Policy and consent form that library patrons must sign to gain Internet
access repeats the term "pornography" nine times. Because of the overriding
emphasis of the consent form and library policy on "pornography," the Loudoun
County procedures create the inference that anyone who receives a violation message on an
Internet terminal was attempting to access illegal materials. Any attempt to gain access
to a Web site, or to conduct a search using a term banned by X-Stop causes a
"Violation" message to appear on the computer screen. The message is clearly
visible to other library patrons.
- Library patrons who wish to access the Internet are required to present both a library
card and a second piece of identification, such as a driver's license.
- Library patrons who wish to access the Internet are required to surrender their library
cards to the staff while using the computer terminals.
- Anyone under the age of 18 can use the library Internet terminals only if a parent signs
a consent form.
- The names of library patrons who use Internet access terminals are recorded on a log by
library staff. The log is kept at the library reference desk and patrons' names may be
freely observed by others in the library.
- Library patrons who access the Internet are further required to review the Internet
policy on sexual harassment once on-line and electronically agree to it before continuing
with Internet access.
- The computer terminals in the Loudoun County library system are placed so that library
staff, and other patrons, can easily look at the computer screen over the user's shoulder
and view any information being accessed by the user.
- Printers attached to computer terminals also are placed so that others may view any
material that is printed by a library patron accessing the Internet.
- The library staff actively monitors the usage of Internet access terminals.
- Because library Internet access terminals are fully visible to all onlookers, users are
inhibited in their ability to access information that involves personal or sensitive
information. This includes such matters as mastectomy reconstruction surgery, mental
health information, other medical information, matters of personal finance, divorce, safe
sex information, and other materials that users may reasonably want to avoid sharing with
all library patrons.
- Library patrons who seek to access a Website that is blocked by X-Stop receive a message
that reads "Violation!! Violation!! Violation!! Access to this site has been blocked.
Please click on your bookmark to go to some other Website, Contact your Internet or
Network Coordinator if you believe this site should not be blocked. X-Stop 95/NT - the
Filter. X-Stop, division of Log-On Data Corp."
- When the X-Stop message designating a blocked Web site appears on a computer screen, it
is freely visible to other library patrons and to library staff.
- The X-Stop content blocking program in the Loudoun County libraries has prevented access
by Plaintiffs and other library users to a large number of Web sites that would otherwise
be available and that are not even arguably pornographic, much less illegal. Plaintiffs
found that X-Stop blocked a significant number of non-pornographic information such as the
Web site for Atomic Books, the Web site for the National Journal on Sexual Orientation
Law, the Quaker home page, and many others. Library patrons found that Websites were
blocked by X-Stop both when a URL was entered directly and when they sought to access the
site through a link from another page.
- Plaintiffs and other users of the Loudoun County library system also have had the use of
search engines blocked by X-Stop. The X-Stop program checks the words that are used in a
search. If the search terms violate the X-Stop "foul word" filter, the program
returns a message that reads "you have attempted to use a search key word that has
been blocked by X-Stop." X-Stop replaces the word typed in by the user with asterisks
and causes the search engine to return zero hits in response to the search.
- When the X-Stop message restricting the use of a search engine appears on a computer
screen, it is freely visible to other library patrons and to library staff.
- Library patrons have found that the X-Stop foul word blocking program monitors and
checks each key stroke as a search term is being typed. The program displays the
"violation" message immediately after a user types a space after a banned word.
The "foul word" filter also prevents searching for a URL that includes a banned
- The "foul word" blocking function severely limits access by Plaintiffs and
other library users to information that has nothing to do with pornography. For example,
library patrons have found that the X-Stop "foul word" blocking function
prevents a search that incorporates the word "pussy." Consequently, the blocking
function prevents searches for such subjects as "pussy willows" and the
"Owl and the Pussy Cat."
- Library patrons similarly have found that the X-Stop "foul word" blocking
function prevents a search that incorporates the word "bastard." Consequently,
the blocking function prevents searches for such books as 1992 National Book Award
finalist, "Bastard Out of Carolina," by Dorothy Allison, or the American
bicentennial novel, "The Bastard," by John Jakes. The X-Stop blocking scheme
censors material that is not blocked in the non-Internet context. Both of these books are
available in the Loudoun County library system without any restrictions, and may be
accessed via the library's on-line card catalogue.
- The "foul word" blocking function disables search engines that are generally
available on the Web, as well as those associated with on-line book stores, such as Amazon
- There is no corresponding banned word feature on the Loudoun County library's on-line
card catalog. A user may search the card catalog for any of the terms that X-Stop
prohibits for an Internet search. For example, the on-line card catalog permits searches
and provides hits for "pussy willow" and "The Owl and the Pussy Cat."
- Defendants' blocking system does not in fact achieve its purported goal of blocking all
"pornographic" material. For example, the X-Stop foul word filter does not block
searches for such terms as "69," "prick," "pecker,"
"dick," "blow job," "porn," or "nipple." In
addition, library patrons who used the Internet access terminals in the Loudoun County
library system found that certain sites that arguably contain "pornography" were
- The library staff makes available a "Request to Review Blocked Site" form for
library patrons who think that an Internet site has been improperly blocked. Patrons are
advised that they may fill out the form and submit it to a reference librarian. The form
calls for the name, library bar-code and phone number of the library patron and requires
that the patron specify the URL of the blocked Web site and to list specific reasons for
objecting to the block.
- Library patrons have been told that the library's policy does not permit immediate
removal of a block on a site that has been inappropriately censored. Patrons have been
informed that they must fill out the "Request to Review Blocked Site" form and
submit it to the library staff. The form is reviewed by a library committee to determine
if its agree whether blocking of the Web site is appropriate. If they agree with the
library patron, a request is sent to Log-On Data Corporation, which may or may not remove
the Web site blocking.
- Even the inadequate "Request to Review Blocked Site" procedure deals only with
Internet sites that users specifically learn are being blocked. There is no method by
which Plaintiffs and other library patrons may find out about or even attempt to deal with
all of the other information and Web sites that are automatically blocked by X-Stop.
Constitutional and Legal Violations
- Plaintiffs incorporate by reference paragraphs 1 through 130 above.
- The Policy is a content-based restriction upon speech subject to strict scrutiny under
the First Amendment.
- The Policy places a significant burden upon the right of library users to receive
otherwise available speech and information via the Internet.
- The Policy blocks a substantial amount of speech that is not obscene or otherwise
constitutionally proscribable and that adults have a right to receive. The effect of the
Policy is to reduce adults accessing the Internet at the Library to even less than
material suitable for children.
- The Policy is enforceable by criminal sanction and has a real and substantial deterrent
effect on protected expression.
- The policy fails to advance a compelling or substantial governmental interest, including
Defendants' purported interest with respect to sexual harassment. Allowing users of a
public library to access the Internet without filtering software does not create a
sexually hostile environment or otherwise violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, and a public library cannot be held liable under Title VII for allowing its patrons
to access material on the Internet entitled to First Amendment protection.
- There are viable alternatives to the Policy that are substantially less restrictive of
the right to free speech.
- The Policy provides for suppression of speech without any judicial determination that
the speech is obscene or otherwise unprotected by law.
- The Policy provides for suppression of speech on the basis of determinations made by
private, nongovernmental actors, and on the basis of automated computer software.
- The Policy chills the willingness of persons to access the Internet by providing for
Library computers to be located in close proximity to, and in full view of, Library staff
and for Library staff to monitor use of the computers.
- The Policy vests Library staff with unfettered and unreviewable discretion to instruct
persons accessing the Internet to refrain from viewing certain material on the basis of
the content of the material and authority to eject such persons from the Library if they
- The Policy is unconstitutionally vague.
- The Policy violates the Library Board's own adopted policies, as referenced in
paragraphs 57-59 above.
- The Policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
- Because the Defendants, acting under color of state law, have caused Plaintiffs to be
deprived of their constitutional rights pursuant to an official policy or custom and
thereby proximately caused injury to plaintiffs, the Defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C.
WHEREFORE, plaintiffs respectfully pray that this Court:
A. Declare that the Policy is unconstitutional;
B. Permanently enjoin Defendants from enforcing the Policy's requirements;
C. Award Plaintiffs such costs and fees as are allowed by law pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
D. Grant Plaintiffs such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.
H. Christopher Bartolomucci
Eric H. Loeb
HOGAN & HARTSON L.L.P.
555 Thirteenth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004
Elliot M. Mincberg
Lawrence S. Ottinger
PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY
2000 M Street, N.W., Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036
Counsel for Plaintiffs
Dated: December 22, 1997