ACLU sues Missouri school district over Internet filtering

A school district in Missouri is the first in the country to face a lawsuit brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union’s “Don’t Filter Me!” campaign, an initiative designed to take one-sided Internet filtering to task.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit Monday against the Camdenton R-III School District for its custom-built filtering software that blocks sites for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities while still allowing anti-LGBT sites.

The filtering software the district uses employs the website database URL Blacklist, which includes viewpoint-neutral categories blocking sexually explicit sites in addition to a “sexuality” category that blocks sites with LGBT information, including sites that are not sexually explicit.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four LGBT organizations that were blocked in the district: PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Campus Pride, and DignityUSA. The lawsuit came after warnings from the ACLU to stop the viewpoint-specific filtering.

In a statement, Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National, identified why it’s important to allow these sites at schools.

“Many LGBT students either don’t have access to the Internet at home or, if they do, they don’t feel safe accessing this information on their home computers. In order to ensure the physical and mental well-being of LGBT youth — especially given the wide access to negative information on LGBT issues — these resources must be accessible,” Huckaby said.

A map on the “Don’t Filter Me!” website shows state-by-state activity of the campaign, which started in February.

Students are encouraged to check for filtering at their schools by completing this survey.