discarding porn
bill requiring anti-porn software altered in senate
by jason jacks


a house of delegates bill that would have forced state-funded libraries in virginia to eliminate internet pornography from their public computers was watered down in a senate committee last week.

if kept in its original form, house bill 570, sponsored by del. samuel nixon jr. (r-chesterfield), would have required public libraries, including the 21 in fairfax county and fairfax city, to install software that would have filtered out pornographic material from the web.

however, because of the committee's changes, the bill, if approved by the entire general assembly this month, would not require the filters, but only make limited money available to libraries wishing to purchase the software.

a week earlier, a similar senate bill never made it out of a finance committee.

since public libraries nationwide started offering internet access to customers at least a decade ago, anti-porn groups have fought hard to block the viewing of pornographic sites on library computers. however, opponents say the filters are too costly and would infringe on citizens' civil liberties and limit internet access of those doing research.

in fairfax county, the library system does not have filters installed on any of its computers available to the public, according to lois kirkpatrick, a spokesperson with the fairfax county public library system.

with respect to children stumbling across pornographic sites at libraries, she said, stating policy, that "librarians are not legally empowered to act in loco parentis." or, in other words, take the place of a child's parent.

in addition, she said county libraries do receive some federal e-rate funding--money earmarked for communication devices--that would require them to install the software. but, she added, none of that money goes toward public computers. "so we don't have to have filters," she said.

del. mark sickles (d-43rd), a former member of the county's public library board of trustees, called nixon's bill a yearly occurrence.

he said complaints of people viewing pornographic sites at county libraries were rare during his 12 years on the board.

"these computers are wide open" to the rest of the library, he said. "people were not looking at improper material, by and large."

he also remembered the software being too expensive. however, hb 570 would make available $50 per computer for libraries wishing to purchase the software.

sean connaughton, the republican chairman of the prince william county board of supervisors, had anti-porn software installed on his county's computers, including those at public libraries, four years ago, and with little resistance, he explained.

several years earlier, loudoun county tried the same, before a federal judge ruled the filters unconstitutional.

connaughton, who said his children regularly frequent libraries by themselves, made requiring the filters statewide one of his campaign issues during his run to become a candidate for lieutenant governor last year.

he said libraries "should be a place for learning, not for being exposed to this [pornography]."

victoria cobb, executive director of the conservative family foundation of virginia in richmond, called nixon's bill, after it came out of committee, "gutted."

she warned that, because libraries are not required to install filters, they are becoming places of operation for sexual predators. she noted the recent arrest in portsmouth, va., of a man who thought he was propositioning a minor for sex via a library's computer. however, the 13-year-old he was chatting with turned out to be an undercover police officer.

cobb called forcing libraries to install anti-porn filters one of her organization's top priorities.

because, she said, "children should not be exposed to something like this in a taxpayers' library."

[see this excellent response, pointing out the propaganda by the reporter and the misdirection by the legislator .]

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