Previous attempts to regulate public Internet access have run into trouble. The Children's Online Protection Act, passed last fall, aimed to block commercial Web sites from giving minors access to "harmful" material. Passed as part of an unrelated spending bill, it was blocked by a federal court on First Amendment grounds. (The Clinton Justice Department is still appealing that decision.) Last fall a different federal judge also ruled that it was unconstitutional for public libraries to filter access on all Net terminals. The amendment passed by the House Thursday would apply to library computers used by adults as well as children. MORE >>
It's starting to look like Columbine may be responsible for another casualty -- federal support of uncensored Internet access. By voice vote Thursday the House amended the Juvenile Justice Bill, tying federal financial support for Net access in schools and libraries -- known as the e-rate -- to technology that filters "harmful" material. A Senate version of the justice bill does not require filtering but Senator John McCain supports a similar scheme that the Senate Commerce Committee will be taking up next week.