In 2012, the Eastern Washington Federal District Court ruled that it was acceptable for the North Central Regional Library (NCRL) to filter certain websites from use. Even though the suit was brought forward by an adult, Sarah Bradburn, who was using the computers to write a research paper on youth tobacco use, the court ruled that the filter did not violate the First Amendment. Judge Edward Shea pointed out that the “filtering of pornographic and gambling content is required by the CIPA, the Federal law which funds the library’s internet access” (Schwartz, 2012).
There are several ethical principles we could use to analyze this verdict.
First, Kant’s Categorical Imperative – what’s right for one is what’s right for all. According to Kant, “the rightness or wrongness of actions does not depend on their consequences but on whether they fulfill our duty” (California State University). Moral duty would require that the library filter out content that could potentially be harmful to children, even if children aren’t using the computers.
Mill’s Principle of Utility states that “whether actions are morally right or wrong depends on their effects” and that “the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing the amount of good things (such as pleasure and happiness) in the world and decreasing the amount of bad things (such as pain and unhappiness)” (IEP). Under utilitarianism, even though filtering the computers could protect children, it could also prevent adults from finding valuable information. Therefore, it does not create the most happiness for the most people.
In Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance, “to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances” (Freeman, 2014). Under Rawls’ theory, the person in the library could be any of us. It could be someone who has no other way to access the Internet other than at the library, so we should not restrict their access.