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DAILY TRIBUNE — (Michigan) library forced to use filters

May 20, 2008

American Family Association of Michigan President Gary Glenn testified before the Royal Oak City Commission in March, urging commissioners to adopt an ordinance requiring the the installation of pornography-blocking software on all computers in the city’s public library. View Glenn’s testimony here:

AFA-Michigan urges you to contact your local library and/or city officials to urge them to follow Royal Oak’s example…see below.

Royal Oak, Michigan
May 20, 2008

Library forced to use filters
Commission passes law limiting
Internet access to pornography

By Catherine Kavanaugh
Daily Tribune Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK– The public library will get filtering devices on all but one of the computers used by adults following passage Monday of an ordinance aimed at restricting Internet access.

In a 4-3 vote, the City Commission mandated the installation of software technology designed to block adult computer users from viewing Web sites with obscene material.

The Royal Oak Public Library has always filtered computers in its children’s department. The February arrest of a man who allegedly looked at child pornography in the adult computer lab resurrected the debate of filtering those terminals, too.

City Commissioners Michael Andrzejak, Terry Drinkwine, Stephen Miller and Chuck Semchena backed the ordinance. They said they want to provide maximum protection to library patrons and employees who could walk by a computer screen showing pornography and anyone who wouldn’t want to share the facility with someone looking for that kind of information.

“I believe there’s a danger from people willing to commit these crimes not only at home in private but in a public place,” Semchena said.

Semchena also said he was looking for a reason to change his vote but doesn’t think the steps taken by the Library Board of Trustees, such as requiring adults to show identification before using a computer, go far enough.

“I think you did some good work but it doesn’t rise to that level for me,” Semchena told library board members who attended the commission meeting.

Drinkwine complimented the board for its stricter ID policy, which has significantly reduced demand for computer time, according to library officials.

“You have to wonder why that it is,” Drinkwine said.

If the filters end up blocking access to legitimate research, too, the commission can reconsider the ordinance, Drinkwine added.

“It’s not something we can’t revisit if you prove it is totally unworkable,” he told the library board. “The only way we will know is to put it into practice and see how it shakes out.”

Mayor James Ellison and City Commissioner Carlo Ginotti and Gary Lelito said they don’t think the ordinance is necessary. No filters block all pornography and the devices can prevent people from going to useful Web sites dealing with health issues, such as sexually transmitted diseases.

“You can’t protect yourself from a chainsaw by taking away 50 percent of its teeth,” Ellison said. “A filter might cut out some of what is out there but it can’t filter all of it.”

The mayor said he prefers filtering patrons with ID checks and constant staff monitoring, which the library does, instead of filtering Internet content.

“I think the library board has the situation under control,” Ellison said just before the vote. “But the ordinance will pass. We will filter our computers and go from there. I wish it wasn’t happening but it’s not the end of the world.”

Ordinances go into effect 10 days after passage. David Palmer, the library board chairman, said the volunteer group will act as quickly as it can to comply.

“We have a directive and we will move ahead with it,” Palmer said.

Frank Houston, another member, said the library board has looked at filters offered by five companies and is leaning toward a device called WebBlocker, which stops access to Web page addresses in dozens of content categories.

One computer must be left unfiltered for Royal Oak to comply with the Michigan Library Privacy Act, which was amended in 1999 to strike a balance between respecting the free speech and privacy of adults while protecting children from obscene material.

Royal Oak could be the first city in Michigan to pass an ordinance forcing the library board to install filters, according to a spokesperson with the Michigan Municipal League. Other libraries leave only one terminal unfiltered as a matter of policy.

In his opposition to the ordinance, Ginotti said, “The worst way to fix a problem is to legislate it.”

However, Andrzejak said he hasn’t heard any public outcry in the cities where public libraries filter computers to the maximum level allowed by state law.

“I’ve been involved in this discussion going back a decade when I was on the library board and advocated for filters,” Andrzejak said. “…I’m not a holy roller. I’m not a liberal. I’m a man in the middle and I think this is right for the community.”

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