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United States: Washington State Supreme Court Upholds Library’s Internet Filtering Policy

(June 15, 2010) The Supreme Court of Washington, in a ruling issued on May 6, 2010, has held that a library district does not violate the state's constitutional right of free speech by filtering Internet content on its public access computers and declining to disable the filter upon request to allow adult patrons to access websites containing constitutionally protected speech.

Several plaintiffs brought an action in federal court against a Washington public library district for its policy of using content-filtering software on its public access computers without providing for disabling the filter upon request, claiming it violated state constitutional free speech guarantees. The federal court asked the Supreme Court of Washington to address the state constitutional law question.

The court analogized the filtering policy to a library's collection development policy, to which courts generally apply wide discretion, given traditional library concerns of limited money and space. The court held that just as libraries do not collect all constitutionally protected publications, they are not obligated to provide complete access to the Internet.

A dissenting opinion disagreed with the majority's collection analogy, countering that the policy was more like refusing to circulate a book in the collection because of its content, which would be unconstitutional. (Bradburn v. N. Cent. Reg'l Library Dist., No. 82200-0 (Wash. May 6, 2009), available at (majority opinion); (concurring opinion); (dissenting opinion).)