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San Francisco bans filters in libraries

San Francisco officials vote to ban filters on computers in local public libraries, risking the loss of some $20,000 in federal funds.

San Francisco officials have voted to ban Internet filters on computers in local public libraries, risking the loss of some $20,000 in federal funds.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors on Monday unanimously prohibited Internet filters on city-owned computers used by the public for Web access. But an amendment to the legislation excludes Internet terminals designated exclusively for individuals under the age of 13.

The filter ban rejects regulations governing federal funding of schools and libraries enacted last year under the Children's Internet Protection Act (CHIPA). That law requires schools and libraries to filter Web content or forgo federal funding. The American Civil Liberties Union and American Library Association have challenged the law, saying it violates First Amendment rights.

San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno, who sponsored the ordinance, said an Internet filter is "flawed technology," failing to block 20 percent of objectionable Web sites and at the same time restricting access to harmless sites.

"There is no technology yet that can differentiate between what is harmful and what is not," Leno said. "Installing Internet filtering, I think, risks giving parents a false sense of security that they need not take responsibility for their children's activities...It's more important that the library along with parents teach our children how to use the Internet responsibly, and there's no filtering device that can substitute for that."

Leno said filters would block information related to many health-related issues, such as breast cancer, AIDS, anorexia and sexuality. He added that other sites, including those of the San Francisco Chronicle, Superbowl XXX and Planned Parenthood, would be blocked with filters.

Marcia Schneider, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Library, said the legislation passed by the board supports the library's current policy, which is to not use filters on public Internet terminals. The San Francisco Public Library and its 26 branches have more than 200 Internet terminals.

Schneider said that if the library loses its funding from state or federal sources as a result of refusing to use filters, the legislation allows the board to consider giving the department the equivalent of the estimated loss.