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Internet filtering advocates urge libraries to protect kids from porn


CAMAS, Wash. (BP)–A 15-year-old Southern Baptist youth stood ramrod straight in his Boy Scout uniform as he challenged the library board of Camas, Wash., to consider the morality of making Internet pornography accessible to children.
High school sophomore Jake Anderson presented a petition to the library board signed by 186 students and 10 teachers from Camas High School located on the Washington side of metro Portland, Ore. Anderson gathered the signatures in two days.
The petition called for removal of the suburban library’s sole computer terminal from the children’s section because it provides unlimited access to all Internet sites, including pornographic ones.
“This computer should not be located next to Dr. Seuss and Berenstein Bears books,” Anderson said during his three-minute presentation. “We’re trying to make the library a safe and comfortable environment for all people.”
More than just moving the computer to a place less accessible to young children, Anderson suggested software filters be installed to block pornography, which some experts say comprises about 2 percent of all Internet sites.
Library Board President Clay Anderson (no relation) thanked the high school student for his presentation. Community resident Margaret Tweet, a stay-at-home mom, spoke next in an apparently unplanned echo of the high school student’s words. Tweet, now a member of an Evangelical Free church, was reared in a Southern Baptist church. It was her third time in as many months to appear on the same issue before the library board.
After the meeting, the library board president told Baptist Press the board would take the matter of blunting Internet porn’s availability “under advisement” but added he anticipated neither a study session nor a vote on the matter.
The dispute in Camas is reflected across the nation, as community residents, library boards and courts of law grapple with issues related to pornography on the Internet.
“The situation has gotten much worse since the elimination of the Communications Decency Act last summer,” said David Burt of Lake Oswego, Ore. A librarian by profession, he is a nationally known advocate of filtering. “A year ago, you wouldn’t have seen ads for porn sites. Now they pop up (on your computer) even when you have no reason to expect them.”
Libraries and schools alike for almost two years have been caught up in the maelstrom of easy accessibility to Internet red light districts.
The American Library Association’s position is that parents are the ones to be responsible to protect their children from Internet pornography. Filtering is censorship, they say.
“One child out of a trillion billion seeks out pornography,” said Judith Krug, spokesperson for the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, which is leading the charge to quash the use of software programs to filter the Internet at libraries. “Their number is so small that it is almost laughable.
“Every time I hear someone say, ‘I want to protect the children,’ I want to pull my hair out,” Krug said. “Yeah, I want to protect kids too, but we should be doing that by teaching them how to access information, and discard that which is irrelevant or inappropriate or obscene.”
Filtering proponents say that’s asking too much of children.
“This makes as much sense as a public library purchasing ‘Hustler’ (magazine) and placing it next to ‘Highlights’ in the children’s room, then informing parents that it is now their responsibility to teach their children how to decide not to open the magazine and look at it,” Burt said. “Those in my profession who argue for unlimited rights for children not only ignore community standards and the law, but also decades of cognitive research.”
There’s another problem, Burt said: “Most of us live in communities where it is a community responsibility to protect children from pornography. …Adult bookstores, x-rated movie theaters and strip clubs are off-limits to minors. When a public library decides to offer unrestricted Internet access to children, it has made a fundamental, radical change to the community without the community’s consent. The library has in effect decided for the whole community that it is no longer a community responsibility to protect children from pornography.”
The American Library Association says all it’s trying to do is to preserve the American constitutional right to free speech. Their oft-stated position is that filters are imperfect and impede a library’s basic purpose, which is to provide information freely to all comers.
“Most filters have hidden agendas,” said Camas librarian David Zavortink. “NetShepherd, for example, is partially funded by the Catholic church. You’re a Baptist. Do you want a Catholic deciding what you can and can’t see on the Internet?”
The filters most often used by libraries block sites the software programmer determines are pornographic. The filters also offer a word-blocking option; libraries usually turn this off so words like “breast” do not impede people from researching breast cancer.
“The Internet knows there’s a problem with pornography and they’re looking for a solution,” Zavortink said. “The motion picture industry went through the same thing when it started, and they worked it out. And remember radio’s seven forbidden words?
“There will be a solution,” he continued. “Let’s just give it time to work through instead of knee-jerk reaction.”
Time is not the issue and neither is censorship, filtering advocates say.
“It’s a battle for the minds and morals of our children,” said Jodi Hoffman of Broward County, Fla. She and her husband recently sued the local school board for the sex education and unlimited Internet access the board provides students despite parental objections. Theirs may be the nation’s first pro-filtering suit. Others around the nation in various stages of judicial attention are anti-filtering suits.
“People my age don’t need access to any pornography whatsoever,” sophomore Jake Anderson said to the Camas library board. “There’s no law that says the library has to provide pornography. The FBI says 90 percent of rapes are committed by people who are addicted to pornography. The Portland police say sexual misconduct happens in steps, and it starts with pornography.
“What we’re asking the library to do is to cut off pornography at the source,” Anderson continued. “What we’re asking for is your protection.”