Family Advocate Suggests 'Filtered Content Week' for Libraries

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - In addition to its annual Banned Books Week, the American Library Association (ALA) should initiate an Internet 'Filtered Content Week' to highlight a situation that allows children to access pornographic or bomb-making sites on public library computers, a leading advocate of stricter Internet controls told CNSNews.com.

"If they showed parents what their children have easy access to in public libraries, the parents would be appalled," Steve Watters, Internet research analyst with Focus on the Family, told CNSNews.com.

"On the other hand, filters have been refined to the point where they block most sexually-explicit material, but the American Library Association has taken such a strong position against filtering of any kind that no one wants to use it," Watters said.

Increasing numbers of arrests worldwide of individuals using Internet chat rooms to illegally solicit sex from children has focused a debate on the availability - and advisability - of installing software in computers that blocks words and images deemed harmful to children.

In a recent high-profile case, Patrick Naughton, 34, the executive who used to oversee Walt Disney Co.'s Go Network of Internet sites, was arrested after soliciting sex online from an FBI agent posing as a 13-year-old girl.

Many parents have begun to routinely install software in their home computers that scans words and phrases as they are received by children and sent by them to people with whom they are communicating. However, the installation of such software in computers in public libraries is a red flag to many.

"The American Library Association does not believe that filtering or blocking software is appropriate for public libraries because it also blocks constitutionally-protected material," Judith Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the ALA, told CNSNews.com.

The technology is ineffective at blocking what many find objectionable, and unadvisable because it throws out the baby with the bath water, indiscriminately blocking legitimate information that everyone has a right to access, Krug said.

"Our latest figures show that while filtering software blocks approximately 87 percent of sex sites - when it is programmed in that way - it only blocks 60 percent of 'hate crime' sites. It also blocks 30 percent of Internet material that is appropriate for the user to access," said Krug.

"So you're talking about sites that are getting through, and information that is valuable and which people, regardless of their age, may need to access, is not permitted to get through," Krug said.

However, filtering advocates argue that since children also play on the Information Superhighway, installing traffic police at dangerous intersections is only common sense.

"Just because a lot of law enforcement is not 100 percent effective doesn't mean we get rid of our police force," Watters said.

"But even if you hit 100 percent efficiency, you have to wonder if they would be satisfied because it goes against their philosophy, which is 'let's make all content available to all people.' And that's not consistent with the thinking of the majority of taxpayers who are supporting the library and wondering why their dollars have to be used to support that kind of information delivery," Watters said.

Regulating what children have access to should be carried out by parents, if at all, and not by the state, Krug said.

"At some point we have to tell our children what we think is important for them, and we have to trust them to not only adhere to our concerns but to be responsible enough to follow through and follow the precepts laid down by the parent," Krug said.

"I suggest that parents block their own computers and take care of their children at home and trust both their children and the programs that libraries have instituted for all age ranges. One of the things parents can tell their children who are going to the library is, 'I want you to stay in the children's room,' where the computers and all the other materials are programmed to provide them with age-appropriate information and material," Krug said.

Banned Books Week 1999 - Celebrating the Freedom to Read, September 25 - October 2, highlights the importance of the First Amendment right to choose to read all books, including banned and challenged ones and other literature considered objectionable, the ALA reports.