Library Turns Off All Internet Access To Avoid Porn

from the what-to-do dept

Three and a half years ago, the Supreme Court upheld the administration’s requirement that any public libraries who wish to keep receiving federal funds must install internet filters on their computers to keep people from viewing porn. This was despite evidence presented that such filters don’t do a very good job of preventing porn and often block perfectly legitimate content (often the type of content people want to be able to access in a library, such as information about breast cancer). Of course, some of us wondered whether porn in libraries was really that big an issue. Apparently, it is. Regina Lynn points us to a story about a library that has decided to (at least temporarily) disable all internet access from the library, after one too many incidents of people surfing porn on the machines. The library is looking for a solution (which is better than the situation at a different library, where a similar situation resulted in the librarian getting fired), but it raises questions about what is the best solution. Originally, many people suggested that if you just put the computers in very public places, it would reduce the problems with people viewing porn — but there are those who actually find that an even better reason to surf porn in a public place. Also, it’s possible that some people may not want others to know what they’re looking up — and that seems like a legitimate concern. Of course, you could go in the opposite direction and simply put computers somewhere where people can’t see what’s on the screen. But, then, of course, people would get worried that there was no real supervision when children were using the computers. So why not do a combination of the two? There are enough programs out there these days that let you get a screen capture of what a computer desktop is displaying. Why not put the computers in semi-private spaces, but allow a librarian to monitor what’s being looked at on the desktop in order to remove patrons who surf porn?


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Comments on “Library Turns Off All Internet Access To Avoid Porn”

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52 Comments
Brett says:

Re: ya but....

Yours is not a very useful nor accurate comment. Librarians are far from “stupid,” being as how most are required to have at least a Masters degree. Perhaps it is more a matter that some librarians are not as tech-savvy as they could be. But I would guess it is more a question of financial means — most libraries operate on quite limited budgets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ya but....

Too stupid?!?! You are obviously not a librarian nor do you know one. Besides it isn’t a librarian’s job to police what someone is looking, whether it be by looking over someone’s shoulder or using video capturing sioftware. You wouldn’t expect them to police what you read, why do expect them to police what you look at?

WhomTAZ says:

I agree

Let wait and beat the livin’ cr_p out of them. I am sick of my tax dollars being spent on peoples vices.

And dammed if they are illegal aliens getting SS benefits, that opens another can of worms. That is you Democratic party at it’s finest: To take more tax dollars to support more pork barrel projects, start up more Bull Sh_t programs to keep dead beats from either sinking or swimming and keeping their beloved ACLU fully funded.

NoName says:

Re: Re: I agree

Yeah one or two Republicans mess up and you hang em high, but the majority of the Democrats and their ideals and logic and oh it is a travisty to bring out their left wing conspiracy theory (AKA Hilary the author of the suppose right wing consipracy theory).

Democrats have the low IQ minorty feeding from their palms and the low IQ majority are stumbling to comprehend the fall out of the Democrats ideology and laws they plan and hope to force down the Majority of Americans who don’t want their SH_T!!!!!!!!!!!

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Re: Re: NoName

“Democrats have the low IQ minorty feeding from their palms”

Funny, according to a an ongoing(I think 50+ years sounds right) study of the approximate IQ’s of Presidents, the high IQ Presidents statistically have been Democrats and our current President is the lowest IQ president we have had, ever. The study was based on college courses, thesis papers, published books, etc. Clinton was the highest ever. I’m not a Democrat either in case you’re thinking I’m picking on you for some partisan bullshit or something.

Also, seeing as how there is no majority of people with an IQ of 110 or higher, ALL of the parties have a low IQ majority “feeding from their palms”. Maybe your IQ isn’t as high as you think, this is pretty obvious as the bell curve is pretty clear about these things.

Justin Pakosky says:

Re: Re: Re:2 GOD can you read

you just quoted and urban myth if you Google presidential IQ the first link says its a myth!

“Origins: No, this isn’t a real news report, nor does it describe a real study. There isn’t a “Lovenstein Institute” in Scranton, Pennsylvania (or anywhere else in the USA), nor do any of the people quoted in the story exist, because this is just another spoof that IQ was taken too seriously.”

P.S. i am a democrat with an IQ of 128 above 90% of most
I just hate dumb people

Charlie says:

Re: I agree

“And dammed if they are illegal aliens getting SS benefits, that opens another can of worms. That is you Democratic party at it’s finest: To take more tax dollars to support more pork barrel projects, start up more Bull Sh_t programs to keep dead beats from either sinking or swimming and keeping their beloved ACLU fully funded.”

Actually that would be the Republican party sir, the past congress, in Repubotard control, spent more money than any other congress in history, by far, with earmarks and pork on a scale never before seen.

And I might add that same Congress is the one that has done nothing about immigration (oh, except the 700 mile grossly underfunded fence on the 2000 mile southern border – brilliant).

And, pesky captain reality calling again, the ACLU is not funded by the government (unless you lamely try to count attorneys fees which are paid to all attorneys when they are court awarded, or the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act, which pays attorneys also in “civil rights cases” – that act is stupid granted, but is not even close to a primary source of income for the ACLU – and both of these things are also used by every right wing religious organization trying to force prayer and religion and so on into schools [Thomas Moore Law Center, etc]).

The point of this story though was not about any of these things about which you are proving to be so profoundly ignorant – it was about that same Republican Congress, again being completely stupid, and passing a law requring libraries to block porn WITHOUT FUNDING IT, again quite brilliant, and thanks to Republicans not Democrats.

zeb (user link) says:

Bogus Complaints

I used to work as a sysadmin for a library. I ran Websense on a monitor port on the last switch before the router and not once did I receive a complaint about a patron not being able to view legitimage content. I know most other libraries in the area ran the software with similar success. The argument that filters don’t work was true a few years ago, but doesn’t hold much weight anymore.

Lets Castrate the Pervs says:

Best Idea

Our Public Library has a very liberal director and allows for full content to be viewed. Their thought is that if they have a maximum usage of only 2 hours a day that the user will not get his fix and go else where that will provide a longer than 2 hour viewing.

Makes me sick to think about this. Currently, kids and adults use the same PC area and the director is at least trying to segregate the users in the near future.

By no means is this a small community either…..

My idea is if you catch them in the act as you would at a adult book store, I think we should hang them by their genitals and well that might be the end of their rythmic actions in public…………………..

If you catch them just viewing the porn then tar and feathet them naked! and I doubt they show their face at the public library again.

Rick says:

This is just stupid.

A lot of libraries have Wi-Fi now, so anyone with a computer can surf whatever they want – on the libraries dime. If they are blocking what I can see on MY COMPUTER, we call that CHINA not a library.

The fact that the PUBLIC, the PEOPLE, YOU and ME pay for this library and it’s internet access means that the PUBLIC, the PEOPLE, YOU and ME should be able to use the library anyway we wish. The filters that should be protecting the children are called PARENTS.

The government and the library are not our mommies and daddies – ok?

If the FEDERAL government is actually enforcing this internet filter BS, they are violating the First Amendment very clearly. The supreme court has also very specifically stated that this type of CENSORSHIP is up to a communities standards – not the feds.

Tired says:

The monitoring software is a good idea. Also, separate the computers into two classes: Computers for Adults, and computers for children. The computers for children would be easily visible. The Adults computers would have a bit more privacy. Both sets have monitoring software. Then, simply put a notice at the Adult computers “Any one viewing any form of pornographic or erotic material on library computers will be fined up to $200”

Maybe that way the libraries could make a few extra bucks.

People crying out the ‘Parent’ card. While yes parents need to monitor what their kids do on the computer, when you have adults viewing inappropriate material on a screen that a child could walk by and see, or a computer that a child would also use, or someone who finds such things offensive, then you have a problem. Unless you want everyone, regardless of age, to be accompanied by their parent to make sure they behave on the computer.

I gladly favor porn filters on library computers. Hell, once I get a bit deeper into programming maybe I’ll write one for libraries to use for free. “The Porn-Free Library Initiative” heh

Daniel Bjorndahl (user link) says:

RE: Replying to a whole bunch of quotes...

Killing everyone with an IQ below 130 would solve nothing – I don’t imagine too many of the important jobs in the world would get done – like farming. Most people I know with a high level of intelligence don’t really know how to work their arse off like those of lesser intelligences.
(if you need an explanation, consider survival of the fittest. Furthermore, everyone has their own groove and the world gets on beat by moving together)

-Reply to harsh punishment of porn-viewers:
A good idea, but not too ethical to tar and feather. I see lawsuits ready to happen with this decision. HOWEVER, maybe a fine should be imposed on violators (caught).

-Reply to librarians not being smart enough to operate video capture software:
I don’t know many technology-smart librarians, yet even if the librarian happens to be a geek, what’s the chance the library has funding for the cards or computers capable of handling the software? Nothing like that is about to happen, at least not where I live.

-General comment
Internet filters at my school have kept me from getting to valuable information (school-related, of course). Then again, it may be a good thing that I’m not using up bandwidth to listen to internet radio stations or surfing ‘inappropriate’ websites.

But as I see it: Filters don’t stop anything. I don’t view porn and that’s that. For someone that does, a filter can only delay their viewing. If there is to be a solution, it must be closer to the heart than a filter.

Atrox says:

Easy problem to solve

Though Congress should not have gotten involved in this at all in the first place there is an easy way to solve the problem, it’s called a whitelist. As opposed to blacklist filters whitelists are very cheap (Squid, a flat file, etc) and, how shall I put this, they WORK.

Blacklists are expensive, by definition out of date as soon as they are updated, and therefore just are not any more than 90% or so effective (the best ones). It is just a flawed approach, because new sites come online, names change, etc, you cannot filter the entire Internet effectively.

Whitelists on the other hand can work, over an admittedly small set of the web, but if libraries starting maintaining a whitelist of their own, and shared it, etc, it could be done fairly easily – and some web in a library is certainly better than none. Such a whitelist would be kept to very mainline sites that are known not to be pornographic, and easily updated by staff, sure this limits the web tremendously and personally I think that is not a good idea at all, but in cases where a filter is needed, especially an unfunded filtering program of this scale, it is the only real option.

And for parents at home, same deal goes, use a whitelist based filtering proxy, hell get an old computer for $100 and setup Squid (works great). This will limit kids access to the sites you define AND the cache makes browsing faster.

Sanguine Dream says:

Websense...

of some other not monitoring software would do the trick. A way to tell what site a give PC is on. That way you can check the legitimacy of a search (was that woman searching for “breasts” or “breast cancer”) before confronting and someone. And when try to lie you can literally show them the log that proves what sites they were on.

Loss of privacy is a price to pay for free public net access.

John Howard Oxley says:

Porn In Libraries

The objection to porn in libraries is more than a little misplaced, I think. But the issue is this — we certainly don’t prevent public libraries from having books which can be called pornographic, and we generally don’t worry about the kiddies being corrupted by this [“Think of the children” is one of the greatest covers for assaults on civil liberties ever invented].

So why is InterNet access any different? Why should the Net be dumbed down to satisfy those mean spirits who just cannot stand others gaining enjoyment from “objectionable” things on the public dime?

Note I am not defending people coming in and acting grossly in the public library, whether viewing Net porn or anything else. But I do think we should show a sense of proportion here — the solution this library has taken is close to cutting off your head to lose weight!

Jim says:

Control

I see life in a different light according to many other posters.

Why is it we are unable to control ourselves but put so much effort in trying to control others?

Personally I believe that a library is about not being censored but about having material about everything with all access. Some things need to be protected, like children, from users that want to abuse. Instead we censor everything instead of tackling to real problem which is going after the offender. Video surveillance with the ability to monitor might be a better solution than the typical shotgun approach that has been handed down.

too embarrassed to use it says:

You people are ridiculous!

I have no clue about your IQ’s or your porn viewing habits, but of all those commenting on columns, blogs, websites, etc., you have shown yourself to be the most asinine, illogical, off-topic, sophomoric bunch of fools with keyboards that it’s been my sorry lot to come upon.

You have trivialized a serious topic, vilified the majority of American citizens, both past and present, and generally comported yourselves with all the dignity of baboons at feeding time.

Thank you so much for exhibiting your shallowness. My wasted time cannot be recovered, so I won’t be reading any further comments here.

librarian in training says:

a more knowledgable view (perhaps)

I think that it is a real shame that techdirt thinks they have the right to consider this topic as a “misuse of technology.” By whose standards are we judging what is appropriate content to be viewed in the library? No matter how incredulous I find it that people view porn on public computers I believe it is their right to do so as long as it is not harming others. Each public library must create its own standards and policies about this issue, it is not an issue that should be decided upon federally.

People seem to forget that a public library is not the same as a school library, patrons at the library consist of many more people than children. Further most public libraries do not issue library cards to children without parental consent, therefore it is up to the parents to decide the level of access that his or her own child has to the library-especially when many libraries require a membership to use their computers.

Finally, it is simple to say that librarians are stupid or not tech savvy and to use it as an excuse when in reality funding often holds back change and improvements in libraries. I am a student getting my master’s degree in library science and I can tell you factually that librarians are some of the most tech savvy people out there. Unfortunately, those techie librarians are often not the same ones that are working in your public library, they are taking on much more complicated jobs with high-end salaries in the business and technology worlds. This doesn’t mean that public libraries are scraping the bottom of the barrel amongst the librarians that they hire, but that most librarians who have a lifelong career working with the public do so because they have a desire to be of service not because they want to make tons of money. Librarians are much more liberal on their views of disseminating information than people expect. Censorship in the public library can end with a fall down a very slippery slope ending with an awful crash.

Bookworm says:

The problem is...

I go to this library all the time. They don’t have a good space to make a new private area for the internet, and they just remodeled so likely won’t rearrange things for a while. It’s illegal to refuse to remove the filter for an adult, and most parents won’t act like bodyguards and shadow their 12-17 year old kids around a library- but that won’t prevent them from walking by and seeing the porn. The internet is a public service; porn in libraries is not a right.

Bill Barr says:

URL Filtering Appliances

As a Libertarian, I find it deplorable to censor. In most cases. But clearly, a PUBLIC place such as a library currently offers methods to seperate adult literature from Dr. Suess. Eight year olds have enough to worry about without trying to figure out how some things fit in some places!

Our company uses a great product, called iPRISM. The company is St. Bernard Software. Since i pay the bills on it, the hardware is perhaps $1200, and the yearly subscription arounf $800. iPRISM allows you to selectively set black and white list policies for different networks, subnets, users, etc. Most any library in America can afford this. The lists are updated every few hours, and the process could not ave been easier. My employees now spend more time working, and less time shopping, or going to websites that could get me sued!

Most importantly, other than asking my employees to authenticate when they start to browse, there was ZERO speed impact to our surfing, there is no way for a hacker to disable the process, as it is run at the gateway, not on the workstation (although, there are workarounds).

So, since it is inconvenient to commit libraries to a process of Eugenics, perhaps a simpler solution is to buy a box, pay the VAR who set up the librariy’s network $100 to install and set it up, and our kids can live in a fluffy world, free from breasts, bodily fluids, and Socialists.

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