Wednesday, October 31, 2001


Porn filters, other rules prompt library to shun funds

John Craig
Staff writer

NEWPORT, Wash. _ The Pend Oreille County Library District will shun federal money for Internet access because it comes with too many strings, including a demand for pornography filters on all the district's computers.

District directors estimated they would have to spend $1,300 a year on Internet filtering software to gain about $6,000 a year from the federal "E-Rate" program.

The district has only 10 public computers, with one more planned next month, but would have to filter 30
additional computers used by staff members.

Chairman Tom Walton said library directors didn't want to commit to the expense because they anticipate the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the legislation tying pornography filters to federal library assistance. Also, he said the board thinks its own policies on Internet access are adequate.

The district requires children to have written permission from parents or legal guardians to log onto the Internet. All users must agree in writing to do nothing that might offend another patron, such as displaying a pornographic photograph.

"We've never received a complaint (from an offended patron), and the complaint forms are right there at the desk," Walton sad.

When a second public computer is added in the Ione branch next month, the district will have a filtered Internet terminal in every branch. Walton said other public computers aren't blocked because censorship is "not consistent with traditional library policy."

Filters sometimes block legitimate Web sites and fail to block some pornographic sites. Filters that search for certain words can miss sites that don't use those words even though they have pornographic images, Walton said.

He noted that filters can't examine image files, and some Web sites use misleading names, such as, to lure innocent users.

"If the federal government won't do something about, what can a small rural library district do about the possibility of someone going to a site that may be perceived as inappropriate?" Walton asked.

He said he was away on vacation when the four other members of the library board made their unanimous decision earlier this month, but he probably would have voted with them.

"I have some personal conflicts, but I don't disagree," he said, noting he runs the company that provides Internet service to the library district.

In the neighboring Spokane County Library District, Assistant Director Lyn Dedas said officials "are taking steps to comply" with the filtering requirements of the Child Internet Protection Act. She said the district already has software on its public computers that allows parents to choose whether children have filtered or unfiltered access.

In Stevens County, library district Director Regan Robinson said directors so far have declined to seek money from the federal E-Rate program because of red tape, not the filtering requirement.

"The paperwork was really burdensome for the amount of money recovered," Robinson said.

"It made me more sympathetic to farmers and other people complaining about the bureaucracy of working with the federal government. I was totally amazed."

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