library sex offender incident fuels internet filter push
offender admitted viewing porn on library pcs
by abby simons
register staff writer
november 21, 2005
a homeless sex offender accused of molesting a toddler in a des moines library restroom last month told police he used library computers to view pornography many times.
even if that's true, james effler jr. didn't violate any laws or break library rules.
the effler case gives fuel to groups that push for internet filters intended to block pornographic web sites at libraries - a position opposed by some librarian associations despite the risk of losing federal money.
"this is a sad thing. children are being raped and molested in public libraries, and it's often a result of pornography being available to people in public libraries," said dan kleinman. he is the founder of the chatham, n.j.-based plan 2 succeed citizens group, which largely opposes the american library association's position and seeks to filter library computers. "it's reoccurring in these communities. it's not frequent, but reoccurring."
kleinman could not provide proof that women and children are victimized by offenders who become aroused by looking at inappropriate material in libraries, saying: "i'm not a doctor. just look at the news." he cited testimony in congress last year by judith reisman, president of the institute for media education, who told a senate committee that pornography is addictive and triggers primal sexual urges.
the iowa library association, though, supports open access to legal information, said president katherine martin, head of collection management and special services at the university of northern iowa's rod library. martin said that includes legal pornography, if other library patrons are protected from seeing the material. most pornography is legal, but sexually oriented material depicting minors is illegal.
"i believe individuals have a right to view what they want as long as it's not in violation of the law, but i do believe arrangements should be made for privacy or to avoid offending others at computer workstations," martin said.
another objection to filters is that they can block useful sites for someone researching legitimate topics or medical conditions.
a spot check of des moines metro area libraries found that to protect patrons' privacy, internet search histories are not kept.
the des moines register filed a request under the iowa open-records law to determine which web sites were visited by public library patrons in des moines, johnston and west des moines.
library directors in des moines and west des moines, in response to the request, said the history of sites visited is automatically deleted after each user logs out of a session in order to protect privacy. public library computers in johnston also do not maintain a history of sites visited.
kathleen richardson, director of the iowa freedom of information council, said that in light of the efforts public libraries take to fiercely guard freedom of speech, the effort to protect patron privacy is not surprising and is likely legitimate.
"it appears they're being very protective of the privacy rights of their patrons, which is their responsibility," richardson said of the librarians contacted.
in some cases, sex offenders have been arrested in conjunction with their use of computers at libraries. in june, texas authorities revoked the probation of a convicted sex offender after teenagers at a san antonio library saw him looking at child pornography on a computer. investigators seized a disk containing images of child pornography he had downloaded. in july, a lincoln, neb., man was charged with possession of child pornography after allegedly printing images from a computer at a public library.
des moines police detective tom follett said effler told police he entered the library oct. 4 planning to use a computer to look at porn but had not logged on before the 20-month-old girl was snatched from the floor near her baby sitter, who was using a computer. the child was taken into a restroom and assaulted. after library workers rescued the girl and held the restroom door shut, police arrested effler on charges of first-degree kidnapping, second-degree sexual assault and failure to comply with rules of the iowa sex offender registry, because he was not living at the address listed there.
according to a 2004 survey by the information use management and policy institute, about 14 percent of iowa's 543 public libraries and 26 branches use filters on each library computer. the survey said about 77 percent do not filter at all, while 7 percent use a blanket filter for all computers in the library.
national statistics show that 52 percent of libraries do not filter internet-ready computers, while about 17 percent use a filter on each computer.
in 2003, the u.s. supreme court said the federal government can withhold money from public libraries that do not use filtering devices under the children's internet protection act.