Is It Unconstitutional To Restrict Time On A Library Computer?

from the seems-a-bit-extreme dept

A woman in Florida is claiming that it's a violation of her First Amendment rights that a library is restricting the amount of time patrons can spend on a computer. She's also upset that they're asking for ID before you can log on. The library says they're doing this to keep the wait down for a computer, but the woman says it's to keep homeless people and other low income people from using computers. It may be difficult case to prove, as it hardly seems like the library is preventing people from using the computers altogether -- just limiting how long they can use them in a single sitting. Even then, the limit of two and a half hours, does seem pretty long. The requirement for an ID might be an issue, if there are people with no IDs, but it's still difficult to see this as a First Amendment issue.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Reality Check, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 4:17pm


    I'm first and you're not.

    Anyway...I dont see how this is a first amendment issue at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    bob, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 4:25pm


    First, If they really need an ID and the person doesn't have one, keep a Polaroid on hand and write the person's name under their picture.

    Second, limiting time isn't a first amendment issue. It's a "let other people take a turn" issue. You could also argue that not letting other people use the computer because you are hogging it is limiting their freedom of speech.

    What we'll end up if she pushes is is federally mandated "speech freedom vouchers" that grant computer access time in libraries. I can see it now ... I'm sorry sir you are over your alloted freedom time for the day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Si Valley Dan, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 4:52pm

    In Italy when I check in to use a computer to catch up we're asked for ID to document our ownership of the computer during a certain time. If I went to kiddie porn and they investigated it I'm documented. I had no issue with this rule. Nor do I in the USA. And 2.5 hours is PLENTY of time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    alex, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 4:55pm

    i wonder if its called the first amendment because thats the "first" place people go when someone does something they dont like.

    limiting your use of a public service is not infringement of anything. youre free to go somewhere else, or use any other medium of communication.

    this will take two seconds for some lawyer right out of law school to argue against and get it thrown out of court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    ReallyEvilCanine, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 5:00pm

    Ooh... a tough one

    So no one here sees how the First Amendment is being violated by preventing an anonymous person access to services provided by a government-sponsored organisation paid for with local, state and federal taxes? Maybe it's time for me to go back to Slashdot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    DM, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 5:17pm

    Re: Ooh... a tough one

    Nobody's preventing anyone from access to government-sponsored services, they're preventing ONE person from MONOPOLIZING said services.

    Want access to the net for longer than allowed by the library? Simple: go to a cyber-cafe or buy a computer. Can't do that? Well... to bad. Computer's aren't air, people can do without if they can't afford the luxury.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    ehrichweiss, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 5:36pm

    Re: Ooh... a tough one

    No, and since you're not providing much in the way of any citations or otherwise, I don't see why we should believe you do either. She's not being prevented from using the computers, she's being told that there is a time limit of 2.5 hours.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    JK, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 5:36pm

    Re: Re: Ooh... a tough one

    The constitution does not guarantee the right to use a computer, neither does it guarantee you won't be insulted or that somebody will listen to you if you do say something. If you can't get on a computer, then go outside and start talking. The comment about identifying who did what during that time period is an excellent point. Otherwise, the libraries would be filled with sexual predators. And I agree with buying your own computer and using an internet cafe. Computers and Internet access is a privilege, a commodity, etc., using it is not a right. Next thing this woman will be suing to get access to to billboards and the Goodyear blimp....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 5:39pm

    Re: Ooh... a tough one

    Apparently, you are the only one who does not see how the government is attempting to protect its assets from being monopolized by anyone person and is attempting to protect the public from potential abuse. See you at Slashdot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Edmunstein, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 5:44pm

    this is so dumb!!!! Time limits don't have anything to do with free speech!!!! this lady is just plain stupid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Jesse Morgan, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 5:51pm

    Re: Ooh... a tough one

    So, do we have the libraries responsible for the actions of it's users without any repercussions for the users, or do we free the library, and thus any anonymous user at the library, of any responsiblity?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Steven, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 6:01pm

    Re: Ooh... a tough one

    How annoying...

    There is nothing that you mentioned here even in the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment deals with Congress and the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the press and the right to peaceably assemble in short. None of them applying to fair computer usage in the state of Florida.

    I doubt our fore fathers even foresaw the use of a computer although they have been pretty thorough for 200+ years.

    If you think this relates to the freedom of speech, then you are really stretching since a computer is usually used for "accessing" information.

    This relates more to the golden rule. Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Surely you spent some time being taught to share. This lady in Florida needs to go back to the very basics and not worry so much about things she does not even begin to understand. Like the first admendment.

    I don't know this Slashdot you mentioned but so far I am not impressed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 6:18pm

    Oh the humanity! Only in the great land of stupidly ridiculous lawsuits for everyone would you ever hear such crap.

    Oh I know, let's sue the library for requiring an ID to rent a book!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Mr. Librarian, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 6:27pm

    Does said library ask for ID if this patron comes in to look at a book? If not they should allow that person access to a computer.
    Time limit is fine as long as they treat everyone the same.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Tim, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 6:37pm

    I am going to go to the local library and grab all the latest bestseller books. Then I'll carry them all to a table and sit there with them from open till close. NOBODY else can have access to those books. Oh, I'm not going to read them all. But it's my right to have access to them, isn't it? All at once? If I want to?
    Let's sue the libraries for charging monetary penalties for returning books late. It's my 1st Ammendment right to be able to read those books for as long as I want to! Screw you if you wanted to read that book. I had it first.
    If you agree with either of the above statements, then YOU are the problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    heh, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 6:40pm

    If this crazy lady wins her suit, 1st thing I'm gonna do is go down to the local library and load up their computers with remote-bots so I can packet the hell out of someone. They'll never know who was behind it. 'oh it was a white fat guy, he was there that day when that stuff was loaded. sorry officer, thats all i can remember. no, we dont have his ID info. that would be unconstitutional to ask for that.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Steven, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 6:41pm

    Re: Mr. Librarian

    The library requires id to check out a book. The library requires id to check out a CD or DVD. The library is requiring an id to check out time on the computer. In today's environment, this is a very limited resource.

    My problem when I go to the library is not so much that they require an ID, but that the access to the computer is in such great demand. So I have to wait my turn just like anybody else.

    The other issue is that the computers that are identified and reserved for access to the Library Catalog are often being used for unrestricted surfing by minors who do not care to wait their turn. They are there so you can locate other materials in the library system itself.

    The library personnel has a tough enough job and they need to be allowed some ways to control access to the resources.

    You do not get to go to the IRS and move directly to the front of the line do you. Try dealing with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in this country which is very humiliating. While these are clearly not first admendment issues, they are a far cry closer than the library system in Florida and have much greater restrictions. That is just the nature of the situation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 6:46pm

    Limits allow others First Amendment access

    It seems like limiting this woman's first amendment access may actually be providing first amendment access to others.

    Really the first amendment has to do with content not access to media. The nation's revolutionary fathers never stated that everyone has to have access to broadsides (or computers)just that the content on them is protected (to a degree).

    My only question is however, is there a line of people waiting most of the time. If there are computers not being used it maybe a case of discrimination.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 6:50pm

    The only issue is if the library is *selective* about asking for IDs or limiting time. If everyone is treated equally the lady has no case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    NadaGeek, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 7:07pm

    Previous Precedent

    Doesn't anyone here remember the sexual harassment case against the minneapolis public libray? Sort of seems like this is a repeat of the same issues that have all been done before.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Clueby4, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 7:13pm

    Why do sheep hate the Bill of Rights? ;P

    Yes it is a first amendment issue.

    As far as ID is concerned, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED! Just restrict access and visibility from minors, ie no using the PC unless your 18+. Sorry, kids but the chicken little excuse for violating civil rights is easily trumped by excluding you, thank your parents for their lack of responsibility.

    And why do I get the feeling that they'll kick you off the computer even if there's no one waiting to use the PC.

    I think we just need to pass a nice simple law to get rid of this "for the children" nonsense. Make it illegal for children to be in public or use public resources without a parent or legal guardian present. Heavy handed; certainly, unreasonable; perhaps but significantly less then standard process of blaming society for poor parenting skills.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    ben, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 8:07pm


    You don't need anything to get a card, just ask for one. The time limit is there to prevent riots. Trust me, in my area of Georgia, it would happen. Shes just a whiny polyp whose not used to not getting her way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Pete Valle, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 8:11pm

    First Amendment

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    Can anybody explain to me how limiting time for a service provided by an institution has to deal with the text above?

    Last time I checked, my rights end when another individual's rights begin. If I have the right to use a public library's computer, so does the guy waiting in line behind me. 2.5 hours is more than enough for basically anything, except maybe pointless mental masturbation by mindlessly looking at Wikipedia pages.

    I also fail to see what is so wrong about asking ID. Don't they ask ID, ie a library card, to get books, also a service from the library. Both the books and the computers are resources provided by the library, why ask for ID for the books and not for the computer? If the book is torn, the library knows who was the last one to use it. If the computer is broken, why can't the library also know who was the last one to use it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Matt, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 8:22pm

    Re: Clueby

    Great, so the next generation grows up completely tech-ignorant and far behind other children (read: in other countries) who have access to important technology such as the internet. Great solution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 8:26pm

    A question and a comment...

    What kind of ID do they need? Must it be a state-issued ID or some form of RealID? Alot of military personnel only have IDs from thier home states and a military ID, and they are exempt from laws requiring them to obtain a new DL everywhere they go. It is very hard for poor folks to get a state-issued ID in Oklahoma, but our local libraries will accept a rent receipt or lease or will mail you a letter that you can bring back in as proof of residence. Residence is key factor, not identity.

    You are not required to have an ID to use the Internet services in our area, it just requires waiting in line and then signing a new User Agreement every time to get your login info.

    And isn't a computer time limit just like a book-borrowing time limit?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Charming Charlie, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 10:28pm

    Really? C'mon Techdirt readers.

    No one so far has the imagination to understand how in the future, as more of our communication takes place online, internet access will be inseperable from free speech? And how today you could make a case that a lack of internet access is a lack of free speech? Consider blogs, email, and forums. Where does all the political expression go down in your life? I'll wager at least some part of it is online, considering you're expressing your opinions on the internet right here.

    Note the difference between making a compelling case and just having the basis for an arguement. The lady does have access to the internet for a reasonable 2 hours a day. Nonetheless, this suit does have something to do with freedom of speech, despite that something being beyond 23 responses.

    Of course, if some of those 23 responses were correct then the internet is just a big place to look stuff up. A luxury item which has no bearing on our ability to functions as citizens in America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    yossi, Mar 31st, 2008 @ 10:50pm

    at my school the time limit is 30 minutes WHEN PEOPLE ARE WAITING. otherwise, help yourself to as much as you like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2008 @ 12:16am

    alot of comments on something that is totally a "non-issue"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Paul, Apr 1st, 2008 @ 5:52am

    Re: Why do sheep hate the Bill of Rights? ;P

    I don't recall any of this having to do with the "for the children" kind of arguments. Its not a first amendment issue for all the reasons mentioned above. No one has given a reason *why* its a first amendment issue. You can't just declare it is and then move on. And no one knows what they use the ID for. It could be so they have a log of who was using the computers at what time. We have no reason to assume they're tracking each computer individually. If they traced a crime back to the library, its good enough for me that they know who was using the computers at the time. Anonymous speech is possible without the use of a public computer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2008 @ 5:59am


    People survive without computers. Some people refuse to own them. You can use your argument for cell phones as well. Its not a freedom of speech issue. She still has freedom of speech. A computer is *not* required. Maybe it offers tools that allow it to reach more people, but the first amendment does *not* guarantee an audience. And no, this is not 'censoring' her or stopping her from finding an audience. It's bull. There's something she wants to do on the computer for more than 2.5 hours at a time. If everybody was allowed to do that, people's rights to use a public service would be denied. Asking ID for proof of citizenship (ie, proof that your taxes are paying for those computers) is fine by me. You have a right to use the public service as long as you're a source of funds for said service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    David Feustel, Apr 1st, 2008 @ 6:41am

    Restricting use of library computers

    U.S. citizens gave up their rights in exchange for
    federal benefits such as using library computers.
    US v. Babcock clearly states that when Congress creates
    a benefit, the recipients of the benefit have NO remedy.
    Did you know also that the ENTIRE government is made up of
    private corporations?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    JD, Apr 1st, 2008 @ 8:47am

    Re: [Charming Charlie]

    Dear Charlie,

    Argue for anonymous Internet access all you want, but it is not a first amendment issue unless Congress is setting the rules of computer use for that library.

    (Repeat) First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    known coward, Apr 1st, 2008 @ 8:51am

    the time limit is stretching the first amendment i

    The anonyminty is not.

    I am not a lawyer, I only play one on TV.

    The anonymity is a first amendment issue. You have a right not to be known in a political discussion, so if you have radical views you can not be persecuted for them. Think of Ben Franklin writing as ‘publicus’, or the authors of the federalist papers. The founding fathers were looking to protect people accused of terrorism (remember that is what the British accused them of).

    The library knowing who you are and at what time you are at the terminal would eliminate any anonymity. They probably should not allow video monitoring of those area’s as potential first amendment violations either.

    ( I disagree with the right to a false name on a social networking site, but that is another issue).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Mark, Apr 1st, 2008 @ 9:42am

    I don't quite understand why the library is needing ID cards to "cut the wait time down". Can someone explain to me why an ID card is necessary? To me, it just seems ridiculous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2008 @ 1:33pm

    it is not unconstitutional to restrict time on a library computer. additionally she can always log back on if no one is waiting

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Pat, Apr 1st, 2008 @ 2:32pm

    Case Dismissed

    The case was dismissed by a district judge on the 25th of March for failing to perfect service against the defendant. In other words she never followed through with the case.
    Here are the orders:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    johnm, Nov 1st, 2008 @ 9:06pm


    I'm pretty disappointed by the people just making up things.

    1. The first amendment does cover florida. The fourteenth amendment mandates the applicability of the 1st on the states and all governments.

    2. You have a right to annonymous speech and association. If the computer is used for such you have an access to such being a right.

    3. The issue is not that the person has a right to a computer, the issue is that the bought won and provided it for use in an allegedly unconstitutional manner. You also don't have a right to mandate a library buy a fighing magazine, but if they do so they have to dole it out constitutionaly, and can't restrict it to black men, for example.

    4. The child predator argument screams of the availability heuristic and moral panic.

    5. The ID is unnecessary and arbitrary. Take a picture, write the person's name down, do anything- why mandate an ID? Dumb as policy.

    6. This woman should have the right to the computer anonomously untill a problem arises. When such a problem arises there is a legitimate ground for restriction. Speculative shit about someone using the computer to do something illegal is just that. Until there is a problem allow people to use the computer anonomously.

    7. The time issue is ridiculous so long as they aren't restricting her use unequally or vindictivly and aren't refusing to let her reregister arbitrarily.

    That people on this site are arguing the first amendment doesn't apply to florida or that if we don't check for ID the library will be overrun with pedophiles (doing what exactly? Chatting to the kid at the next terminal which they couldn't do in the bookshelving area?) is ridiculous. Until there is a problem the government should stay out of burdensome rules that accomplish nothing.

    The suit is stupid except for tha anonymity issue, and only then unless she can demonstrate a need for ID-less usage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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