Grrr..the blog ate my entry TWICE, so here's a much shortened answer:
No, not without giving the patron notice and an opportunity to appeal, at least according to a federal district court in North Carolina this month.
Ralph Miller sued the library, the library director, and the librarian who barred him from the Internet. He claims that she came up behind him when he was reading the Russian newspaper "Pravda.ru" online. "Unwelcome and unsolicited" nude image(s) had popped up on his computer. Miller says that the librarian ordered him off the computer at the Mt. Airy (N.C.) library and banned his access at all thirteen libraries in the system.
The court just ruled in favor of Miller. That is, he's made a valid due process claim. He has a First Amendment right of access to information (Kreimer, Neinast, Armstrong cases). At a minimum, the library must give users notice and an opportunity to appeal.
The court said that the Supreme Court's decision upholding the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) makes it clear that libraries can adopt Internet use agreements prohibiting users from accessing visual depictions of child pornography and obscenity. That does not mean, however, that libraries can dispense with due process.
Minow take: I'm surprised (again) if the library doesn't have some appeals process, essential for legally enforceable behavior policies. Maybe the patron is telling the truth - what if he was just trying to read Pravda? What was the nature of the photos? (Remember the Hawaii patron who sued the library when he was allegedly banned looking at pictures of men with their shirts off?) Miller deserves a chance to tell his side of the story before summarily having his access taken away. Is there more to the library's side of the story? Maybe he should have been banned, after getting due process. We need the facts, which we'll get if it goes to trial. More likely it'll settle. If you're in North Carolina and follow this case, please send updates back to LibraryLaw blog.
Ralph J. Miller v. Northwest Region Library Bd., P Gwyn, Librarian, J. Hedrick, Director, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25403, December 8, 2004.
From the court opinion:
Given the Supreme Court's decision in American Library Association, there is no doubt that libraries are entitled to adopt Internet user agreements prohibiting the use of library Internet computers to access visual depictions that constitute obscenity or child pornography. Such a policy is consistent with the library's interest in providing Internet access for "research, learning and recreational pursuits," while also preventing the use of library computers to view online pornography. However, the Supreme Court's decision in American Library Association does not stand for the proposition that no constitutional protections apply to Internet computers at public libraries. In the present case, Plaintiff alleges that his inadvertent violation of the Library's Internet use policy resulted in him being permanently barred from using any of the Internet computers at thirteen regional libraries, without formal notification of the charges against him and without any appeal rights or opportunity to provide his side of the story. These allegations raise several constitutional concerns that are not addressed or precluded by the Supreme Court's decision in American Library Association. One such concern is the granting or denial of procedural due process. Plaintiff's claims must therefore be considered in light of established constitutional standards regarding procedural due process.