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adult may have accessed child pornography at groton library
concerns raised about facility's computer policy

by gladys alcedo
day staff writer, groton
published on 1/5/2006

groton - town councilor james l. streeter called on the town to implement stronger safeguards and increased internet controls that would prevent pornography from being viewed on the publicly accessed computers at the groton public library, especially in the presence of children.

streeter told the council tuesday that he learned the town was investigating an incident in which "an adult male was found to have accessed, watched and downloaded child pornography from one of the public computers at the groton public library."

"i want to look out for the morals of our children. public tax dollars are paying for" these computers, streeter said wednesday. "i'm not trying to restrict anybody. if they want to view pornography that's up to them, but if they use the public's computers there have to be restrictions."

police chief kelly m. fogg confirmed wednesday that police were investigating an incident involving one of the computers at the library. he said police were called by library staff shortly after noon dec. 12 about "a library patron, possibly viewing child pornography."

possession of child pornography is illegal.

the patron was observed by an astute library staff member, fogg said. police have identified the man, but have declined to name him because the case is still under investigation.

fogg did say the computer involved wasn't located in the children's section of the library.

the library, which has provided internet access since the mid-1990s, has computers available at the children's division, young adult section, adult area and a classroom. the classroom is supervised and all the other computers have been strategically placed next to or in view of librarians' desks.

library director alan benkert declined comment on the incident streeter referred to, but the librarian said he wanted to reassure the public that the library does utilize filtering software and "comply with the children's internet protection act and any other law" governing online access.

"we want to make sure people realize that we do have quite a bit of control of what goes on here. we make every reasonable effort to control the use," benkert said wednesday. the library, under the conditions of receiving federal monies, had to install filtering software in its computers as of july 2004.

but in compliance with a u.s. supreme court ruling, the library does afford patrons age 17 and older the ability to ask library staff to temporarily turn off the filtering software "for bona fide research or other lawful purposes," benkert said.

that internet policy is posted along the three sides of the horseshoe area for the computers set aside for adult use. this area, according to the policy, could only be used by patrons who were in sixth grade or above. children younger than grade six can use the computers in the children's section, but the child must be at least 9 years old and accompanied by an adult.

benkert said adult users have regularly requested the filters to be disabled because they block access to legitimate web sites. he estimated 100 to 200 people a day use the library's computers.

“filters don't work perfectly," he said. "filters work on words. they can't see pictures ... we try to buy the best filters we can afford and that the programmers can write.

"all of our computers are supervised to the best of our abilities. we turn the screens toward the public areas so the staff can check them. we don't have any private places," benkert added.

benkert said staff members have approached and asked patrons not to visit a web site if the site was deemed inappropriate for such a public venue.

the library, which has a five-page policy that governs internet use, has also notified users that any illegal use of library computers will be reported to police.

streeter said the library's policy and monitoring were still not enough to protect the children.

he said he has seen a mixed crowd of young and adult patrons using the computers in the adult section. he is concerned about the child sitting next to an adult who had the filters disabled.

"i think it's inappropriate in our library to have the possibility of pornography being viewed by an adult with a child sitting next to him. it's a crime," he said. "i can readily concur with the free-speech issue. there are ways to control it. one way could be to have adults in a separate room, where the kids would not have any contact or have a chance to walk by." 

© the day publishing co., 2006
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