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Bill requires libraries to filter out porn

Thursday, March 01, 2001

By John M.R. Bull, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Correspondent

HARRISBURG -- Public libraries are turning into havens for pedophiles who use computers to surf for pornography and prey on children, two lawmakers claimed yesterday in reintroducing a bill to force libraries to install porn filters on computers.

The bill would prevent libraries "from becoming magnets for pedophiles, molesters and others with an unhealthy interest in pornography, by removing an attraction that is drawing these people to our libraries and placing them in close proximity to our children," said state Rep. Allan Egolf, R-Cumberland.

House Bill 10 would require all public libraries in the state to install the porn-blocking software on computers or face the loss of state funds.

State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, introduced identical legislation in the Senate.

The Legislature has increased state appropriations to libraries over the last few years, and some of it went for computers. Therefore, taxpayers are paying for porn-surfing at public libraries, he said.

"If Pennsylvania's taxpayers are going to provide its libraries with the ability to access the Internet, then Pennsylvania's taxpayers are going to have some say about how the Internet is used," he said.

The American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union object to the bill on the grounds it would violate free-speech principles and result in censorship. And incidents of library patrons visiting obscene Web sites aren't common, the groups say.

In fact, state library association officials said they recorded not a single complaint last year about patrons viewing pornographic sites on library computers.

"It's rare for us to get a complaint," said Karen Cullings, spokeswoman for the Dauphin County Library Association. "We're happy to see the issue addressed, but it's a very complex issue."

Libraries, as part of a 1999 state law, were forced to adopt Internet use policies.

Most libraries in the state prohibit viewing obscene materials on computers and patrons will be kicked out for doing so, Cullings said.

Many libraries, however, do not use software that blocks access to pornographic sites.

The technology has not been perfected and filters often block legitimate sites and let unacceptable ones in. For example, some filtering software blocks computer searches for the words "Middlesex, England."

The Dauphin County Library Association has not installed filters in the computers in its libraries for another reason: It would give parents a false sense of security, Cullings said.

The association urges parents to accompany their children to the library, she added.

Egolf and Piccola yesterday trotted out two Central Pennsylvania mothers who claimed they saw youngsters using library computers to look at naked women.

"Needless to say, I was mortified," said Darlene Thumma of Dauphin County, who said the event happened three years ago -- before many libraries adopted Internet use policies. "When I found they had no filters, I was appalled."

Tricia Wilt of Perry County said she was so traumatized after seeing a young man looking at pornography on a library computer a few years ago while she was accompanying her young children, she didn't go back to the library for a year.

And when she did, she noticed another youngster looking at a picture of a naked person on the library computer.

"I felt very violated," she said.

The reintroduced bill passed the state House in November but died in the Senate.

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