Certain Libraries Safe Haven for Public Porn

Access to information is great, but how much is too much?

By Matt Baume
|  Thursday, Sep 23, 2010  |  Updated 1:03 PM PDT
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Who is Looking Out for the Porn Actors

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The day the government outlaws porn is the day nearly every person in America becomes a criminal.

Well, it looks like the county of Sonoma isn't planning on outlawing porn any time soon. But some advocates want the library to at least crack down a bit.

At issue are a bank of public computer terminals. Visitors to the library could use them for all manner of purpose, from researching the Constitution to ogling bare chests.

Right now, the Library Commission is reluctant to impose filters on the computers. Internet filtering software is expensive and simply doesn't work, they said. No program can detect with sufficient accuracy whether something is objectionable or not, so patrons would find themselves blocked from reasonable websites and permitted access to racy ones.

The Commission says it is also uncomfortable with the idea of censorship.

There were 45 incidents over the last year of patrons browsing inappropriate sites -- but that number doesn't mean much. It's anyone's guess what "inappropriate" means, and there's no indication that any of those reports was ever actually substantiated. Someone doing scholarly research on human anatomy could have triggered a complaint, for example.

And the filters could wind up doing more harm than good. A library in Toronto, for example, discovered that their filtering software was blocking access to LGBT sites, and that fixing the block would be costly and inconvenient.

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