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3/21/2008
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Library Sued For Restricting Internet Time

The Tampa, Fla., library recently restricted use of public Internet terminals at its branches to two-and-a-half hours per day and began asking patrons for ID before they could log on.

A Florida library has been slapped with a lawsuit by a woman who claims its restrictions on Internet use violate her First Amendment free speech rights.

Laura Thacker filed the complaint against the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative in Tampa, Fla. The suit claims the library recently restricted use of public Internet terminals at its branches to two-and-a-half hours per day and began asking patrons for ID before they could log on.

"The right to access the means of public communication is intrinsic to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States," said Thacker, quoting from another library's mission statement.

Thacker filed the suit last September in U.S. District Court in Tampa. It came to light this week when a judge threatened to toss the case because the library cooperative has yet to be served with papers.

According to Thacker, the library said it imposed the restrictions to save on bandwidth and reduce wait times. But in her lawsuit she says the reasons don't hold up. She said she "never has waited longer than 15 minutes so looks askance upon the alleged complaints of no computer access."

Thacker said the real reason for the policy changes is the library's desire to keep vagrants and low-income individuals off its premises.

"These measures are enacted at least partly in a mean-spirited effort to remove the homeless and the less than wealthy from the libraries," Thacker claims in court papers.

"For every person seeking an education or in need of research time while writing a book or even filling out a food-stamp application, the proposed time limit is wholly inadequate," said Thacker.

"There exists a percentage of the taxpaying public who rely on the public library and the computers and other materials," said Thacker.

The Hillsborough County Public Library has yet to file a formal response in the case.

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