Some libraries reconsider pornography filters

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2003

The Fairbanks North Star Borough is considering anti-pornography filters for Internet computers at its two libraries following the U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday allowing the federal government to withhold funding from public libraries that do not have them.

The Juneau Public Libraries are not considering filters, said acting director Barbara Berg. The libraries - with sites downtown, Douglas and the Mendenhall Valley - do not accept the type of federal funding that requires installing filters.

The Juneau Public Libraries already have a policy, rarely broken, of forbidding the viewing of sexually explicit materials, Berg said. And the libraries encourage parents to monitor their children's use of their computers.

Moreover, the filtering software doesn't work as advertised, she said.

"It could be a real problem if you put something out there that purports to block (explicit sites) and they get there anyway, and that blocks what it shouldn't be blocking," Berg said.

The Noel Wien Public Library and the North Pole Branch Library in Fairbanks are among an estimated 22 of 88 public libraries in the state affected by the Supreme Court decision on the Children's Internet Protection Act.

Provisions of the law, enacted in 2000, dealing with public libraries have been blocked by a lower-court ruling and have never taken effect. But provisions related to school libraries have been in effect.

The law refers to blocking images that are obscene, pornographic or a vaguer category of being harmful to minors, although filters often are triggered by text as well.

Noel Wien director Greg Hill is studying the filters' effectiveness and cost. Hill will advise Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Rhonda Boyles on whether the library should purchase filters or forgo federal money.

Little of the library's $3.5 million budget is in jeopardy. The federal government pays for the library's Internet service provider, a subsidy of $2,795 this year.

"We want to comply with the law," Hill said. "At the same time, we want to maintain as much access for our customers as possible. We're going to try to do a balancing act."

The Supreme Court decision permits adult computer users to ask that filters be shut off.

Hill said even the best filters allow 10 percent of the problem sites to be displayed. They also block some nonpornographic sites.

Currently, the library's Internet computers have filters that can be turned on and off by users.

At the Juneau School District and the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, pornography blocks already are in place.

George Smith, acting state librarian, is advising public libraries on what the court decision means and what filters are on the market. He's not telling communities whether to buy the filters. That decision lies with each community, he said.

"Some of the communities in our state will clearly not filter, and they'll just not ask for the federal (Internet provider money,)" he said.

Empire reporter Eric Fry contributed to this article.

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