The Burlington News
Saturday, May 23, 1998
pages N1,N8

Library clamps down on Net porn

Six-month trial will make it tougher for youngsters to access sites

Measures stop short of having parents sign access agreement for young patrons

by Carmela Fragomeni,

Youngsters using the library's Internet terminals should find it more difficult to access pornographic sites - for the next six months at the very least.

The Burlington Public Library Board has adopted several measures on a trial basis. They include filters on some monitors, to screen out sexually explicit sites; and privacy screens on the rest, to cut down the visibility of contents to patrons.

It's a happy ending to a controversy. Parents, such as David Auger, urged controls to prevent young children from being exposed to pornography at the library, while computer freedom advocates, such as David Jones, a McMaster professor, argued that filtering diminishes the value of the Internet.

Auger, whose five-year-old daughter was exposed to a Playboy model whose image was left on a library terminal screen, is happy with the board's new measures. "I think it'll go a long way to protect children from pornographic material."

Jones, too, is content, as long as "it stops here".

Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada, a group advocating freedom of expression on the Net, says the compromise is acceptable because it gives patrons a choice, and the sites to be eliminated are specific to pornography, and don't include a host of others some might find objectionable.

Library staff, while unenthused by the compromise measures, recommeded them nonetheless. "It's an attempt to be responsive to the community", said deputy librarian Sonia Lewis.

Staff are uncomfortable with the measures because filtering mechanisms can be circumvented easily. Staff also felt the steps go against the grain of public libraries by denying some access. None of Burlington's neighbouring libraries use filters.

"We're trying to respect those concerned about exposure and at the same time, honour intellectual freedom by giving a choice", Lewis said.

The measure stop short of having parents sign Internet use agreements for youth under 18, and forcing children to use only filtered computers.

Board member and city councillor John Taylor said the library hasn't gone far enough. He stood alone, however, in advocating Internet use agreements signed by parents of those under 18 years.

"Parents with children at school have to sign them. So what's the problem?"

Library staff countered that 13- to 18-year-olds might well not bother using the library's Internet terminals if they have to get parents to sign forms.

Taylor has surfed the Net himself and came across "triple x-rated" stuff.

"I don't think the material I saw is acceptable in any form. Just as we try to protect children from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, I think we have to protect them from pornography".

The board hopes to get a legal opinion by September on several grey areas in the measures being taken.

They include what, if any, liability does it have if children still happen to access pornographic sites, despite the filter; what to do if a child or other patron prints out material that clearly violates the Criminal Code; and is the library contravening the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by restricting fill Internet access at some of its computers.

In the meantime, the privacy screens and a few more computers will be purchased, and an Internet filter chosen and installed.

Staff will report back in six months on feedback from patrons.

If the steps taken fail, Lewis said most of the expenditures will not go to waste, because the library could use the additional computer equipment anyway.

The Issue:
Reducing the risk of children being exposed to pornographic material on computers at the Burlington Public Library.

Measures Planned:
Offer a mix of filtered and unfiltered Internet access. Filters block pornographic material by site address rather than by word or by subject.

At Central Library: all three computers in children's departments, one on each floor of adult department. At Tansley Woods branch: two of the four computers. At Aldershot, Appleby, and Tyandaga branches: One computer each, not filtered but purchasing another computer, which would be filtered, for each branch to give patrons a choice.

Privacy screens for all computers that are not filtered.

Library card registration forms for children up to grade 8 still require parental signature, but to include Internet use policy and guidelines warning library is not responsible for enforcing parental restrictions on Internet use. Fall workshops on safety on the Internet.

Staff to report back on success of above measures in six months.

Measures Taken:
Internet use guidelines to new library users when they register.

Guidelines to help staff enforce Internet guidelines.

Signs encourage Internet users to return to library homepage.

Two-month pilot projects:
Relocated once computer at Tansley Woods.
Tested privacy screens. Patron feedback very positive on both.

From a low range of $250 for filters and $200 annual maintenance, to a high range of about $11,000 plus $2,000 annual maintenance.

Additional computers for branches: $7,000 to $8,000.

Copyright © 1998 by The Burlington News. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.