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Filter Net At Library?

Dateline: 11/1/97

An admiral and worthy endeavor or another step toward censorship? What do you think? You may email me.

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The Milpitas Post has been a-buzz with editorials and letters about the pressure being put on the Library Commission by some folks from Gilroy (a farming community at the south end of Silicon Valley area). Now the Post, you know, is only recently online. I'm not sure who at the post has even looked around the Internet. Sometimes it's painfully obvious that the people there who write about web sites have not visited the sites they write about. Anyway, the editor, Mort Levine, has listened to these conservatives from Gilroy who want to put filtering software on all library public access computers. Chief librarian, Ed Cavallini, opposes censorship of any kind. Steve Munzel, School Board member and Historical Society chair, wrote a letter to the Editor concerning the consequences of using filtering software.

First, let's see if the problem really exists. Are there hordes of post-pubescent males crowding the five public access machines that are in full view of librarians and any library patrons? Yes, the stations are often in use, but also by girls and men and women of all ages. The machines are in between machines dedicated to looking up books in the library system. One is over by the microfiche system, still in view of the librarians. How "turned on" is anyone going to attempt to get in such a crowd?

Second, say the filtering devices were purchased and installed. What would be the costs both "hard" and "soft" to us all? I looked around the Library Surf web site, linked below, and could not find exact pricing information. This is not "off the shelf" software. You can guess it comes with a "Service Technician" to install and maintain it.

The "soft" cost is what kinds of information would be blocked from all of us using the library machines for research. Like Steve Munzel pointed out, some of these filters look for keywords. Did you know that the White House site gets blocked because it uses the keywords "First Couple" and "Couple" is a "dirty word?" This can be extremely frustrating for those of us looking for untitilating information.

More sophisticated filtering systems rely on the RSAC rating system. Web masters pay these folks to review their sites and give it favorable rating so that most people can access their pages. There are some "voluntary" rating systems, also. If the folks who put up the City Hall website didn't know to acquire a favorable rating, you won't be able to access it from the library, if they are forced to filter.

With over 30,000 new web pages published every day, most without any rating codes, the reality of filtering is daunting. My guess is that Mary Jo Realtor didn't put in a rating code on her website. I know my own personal page about homeschooling doesn't have any special code in it. The pornographers, you can bet, can fake the "voluntary" codes if they want to, though many are in the business to sell their filth to older folks with fat wallets. They have their wares behind forms asking for credit card information and requesting big bucks.

Third, is true "porn" that easy for the average kid to run across? I used to help out on AOL and have kids asking where to find "pron." One thing about the internet search engines: you have to be able to spell the words to be able to find anything! Elementary aged children and younger are not going to accidentally run into it on web sites.

So, where is the danger? The danger lies in parents who don't have a clue and let their children roam unsupervised in online chat rooms, which aren't filtered at all by this software! That's where these creeps who try to seduce children lurk. Be aware, too, that it MAY be your child trying to seduce some adult. This does happen! I have been propositioned by young boys! You know your child best. You allow them the use of other tools according to their level of responsibility. If your child can't handle being in the library without you nearby, then please, just go with them! Don't block all the rest of the population of Milpitas from information on the Internet.

Censorship In a Box
Why blocking software is wrong for public libraries. American Civil Liberties Union white Paper.

Communications Decency Act of 1996
Supreme Court Ruling overturning the CDA. ACLU vs. Reno

History of a Child-Safe Internet
This is SafeSurf's version.

Online Parental Control Act of 1996

(c) DEFINITION OF HARMFUL TO MINORS---- Section 223(h) of such Act is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph:

  • "(6) HARMFUL TO MINORS.---- The term 'harmful to minors' mean sexually explicit matter which meets all of the following criteria:
  • "(A) Considered as a whole, the matter appeals to the prurient interest of minors.
  • "(B) The matter is patently offensive as determined by contemporary local community standards in terms of what is suitable for minors.
  • "(C) Considered as a whole, the matter lacks serious literary, artistic, political, educational, or scientific value for minors."

Recreational Software Advisory Council on the Internet [RSACi]
Allows site owners to register their site as to its relative rating for children. but do most web owners do this? Is fee-based. Those with lots of money can get a good rating. You probably can't afford it.

SafeSurf Homepage
Original filtering software system for the Net. A "Black List" approach.


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