Blog Post

Library Prefers to Protect Porn Viewers Rather Than Filter Smut

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Instead of blocking obscene material from public computers, a library in San Francisco decided to "fix" the problem by providing hoods over the screens to enable porn-viewers to indulge in smut without offending others.

The New York Times is reporting on a San Francisco Public Library which received so many complaints by patrons about explicit pornography being openly viewed for all to see that it decided to do something about it. But rather than truly solving the problem by filtering out hard-core sites, they simply added hoods to all the monitors that allow only the person using the computer to see what's on the screen.

“It’s for their privacy, and for ours,” said Michelle Jeffers, the library spokeswoman.

In addition, the library will post warnings on all of its 240 computers reminding people to be sensitive to other patrons when using the computers- something the Times called a "solution" the library prefers to filtering or "censoring" images.

One can only wonder what good this can possibly do for society, not to mention the fact that it does even less to protect the public from the sometimes dangerous miscreants who frequent libraries to porn surf and commit crimes while they're at it. This site lists just a few of the assaults that have taken place in libraries in recent years. That many of these victims are children should come as no surprise because of the growing number of cases of patrons viewing illegal child pornography on library computers.

When patrons try to do something about it, they're usually told nothing can be done because of the First Amendment right to free speech. But what they're not telling their patrons is that the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't agree. They upheld the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000 and orders all libraries that accept public funds to block prurient material. 

As the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees CIPA, explains: "Libraries that accept federal funding . . . . . must have blocking or filtering measures in place. The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to materials that are: (a) obscene, (b) child pornography, or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors)."

Public libraries that are allowing children to walk by patrons who are openly viewing porn on their computers out of a false sense of protecting their right to free speech are either not knowledgeable about the law or are openly defying it. 

When New York public libraries became too lax in their porn policy last year, Patrick Trueman, a former chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Department of Justice,  who is now the president and CEO of the New York-based Morality in Media, said the city is dead wrong. 

“The New York City Public Library System is more than ten years out of date and wrong on its porn-on-every-library-computer policy,” Trueman said. “The New York library authorities seem too much influenced by the pro-porn American Library Association which unsuccessfully and unwisely challenged CIPA."

When they ruled against the American Library Association's unsuccessful challenge to CIPA in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court said there is no First Amendment problem in blocking porn at libraries.

“What is the message that the ALA and the New York Library System are trying to convey to patrons, particularly to children?” asked Trueman. “Porn is demeaning, depicts violence, particularly rape, and portrays girls and women as mere sexual objects with no self worth. Parents should storm library board meetings demanding protection from the scourge of pornography and until a policy change comes, keep their kids away,” concluded Trueman.

But the problem of porn surfing in public has grown far beyond the library. Thanks to iPads, smart phones and laptops, people are exposing children to prurient material in restaurants, parks, schools and office buildings.

Not even the friendly skies are immune. Morality in Media recently launched a "no porn on the plane" campaign after its executive director, Dawn Hawkins, sat behind a man who was watching sado-masochistic porn during the flight. When she complained to the flight attendant, she was told he was powerful to force the man to stop. The man eventually turned off his computer, but Hawkins continued to press him on why he would do such a thing in public. Finally, another passenger came up to her and said, "Be quiet, nobody cares."

When Ms. Hawkins, from Morality in Media, posted a YouTube video describing her encounter, she was bombarded with angry e-mails from people telling her to mind her own business, the Times reports.

“People said, ‘Just look away,’ ” she recalled. “Their argument is that people can do what they want. This is America.”

However, this kind of freedom without responsibility is also called anarchy. Is this the kind of society we want to live in, where a child can't eat their chicken McNuggets at the local MacDonald's without being bombarded with violent sexual images on a nearby customer's laptop?

Some say we should just avert our eyes if we don't like what we see, but that's the equivalent of saying we don't care about the health and well-being of our neighbor and community. We owe it to each other to do something about this, both for the sake of those who view the porn willingly and those who do so unwillingly.

Click here for a variety of resources that can help us rid our world of the scourge of smut.

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