Library filters not necessary

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 25, 2003

When the Supreme Court ruled Monday on requiring public libraries to filter their computers from pornography, red flags should have been sent up all across America.

Not for the fact that the court is trying to protect children from pornography, but for the fact they are essentially censoring potential useful information from getting through to those who might need it most.

Internet filters can be a good thing. In a search for filtering programs, the Star-News found a site that offered access to 58 such sites. Simply by typing in the term "internet filters" into the Yahoo search engine, more than 1,000 sites were discovered, many of them free.

And that's what the real issue should be. Requiring an entity that receives federal funding - that's money that we, the taxpayers provide - to limit the content it offers to an individual is a violation of the first amendment.

Restricting institutions that provide information to the public from offering legal information, that's just illegal. Yes, there are things that don't need to be seen. Child pornography being the main one, but consider Andalusia Public Library Director Karin Taylor's remarks regarding research and filters - "Sometimes they don't use the constitutionally protected speech criteria and they will ban something just because it might have the word sex in it.

if a person wants to come in and do research on infertility or a research paper on venereal disease and they can't get into sites that have constitutionally protected speech."

Filtering content at libraries could potentially cause someone to lose their life in a worse-case scenario. Then, who would be at fault because information wasn't available? The library? The city? The Supreme Court?

We agree that filtering of some sort is a necessity on public computers. How that is done should be left to each individual library. The Andalusia Public Library already has a system in place. The computers are in plain view of librarians who routinely monitor the content opened on a web page. We also understand large libraries can't monitor activity so closely, but they should be able to initiate their own policy and procedures regarding computer usage. It shouldn't be mandated by Congress or the court system.

There's also an old saying from a former Supreme Court Justice that goes, "I don't know how to define pornography, but I know it when I see it."

If that's the case, why can't an individual library "know pornography" when it sees it?