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Boston libraries restrict Web access

Angry parents get their way when Mayor Thomas Menino clamped down on kids' surfing privileges in the Boston Public Library.

Naughty children in Beantown libraries were accessing pornographic pictures from the Net, but angry parents got their way yesterday when Mayor Thomas Menino clamped down on kids' surfing privileges.

Parents recently had complained that sexually explicit material was being downloaded in the children's section of the Boston Public Library. The mayor ordered the city's chief of computer technology, Michael Hernon, to restrict Net access to the city's 200 computers designated for use by children.

To begin with, Hernon called up all Boston's public schools, libraries, and the Boston Community Center and told them to post an adult supervisor near all Net stations in use by children. The city's next step will please software companies, but not civil rights groups.

The city will install CyberPatrol's blocking software, which filters sex sites, on all kids' computers. Copies of Netscape Navigator software will be replaced with Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0. The Microsoft browser supports the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) standard, which gives users control over the kinds of material they deem appropriate for children.

"This is the best-available technology solution we have without going overboard and restricting adults," Hernon said today. "I don't think a law needs to be put in place about these issues. We can approach this in a rational manner."

The city says the cost of installing this software will be approximately $10 per networked computer and $40 per PC with dial-up modem access.

CyberPatrol and other blocking software have been widely criticized by anticensorship groups, who say they are sometimes misused.

For example, Solid Oak Software's Cybersitter blocks sites that do not contain pornography such as the National Organization of Women.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would consider filing a lawsuit if the mayor's office doesn't back down. John Roberts, director of the ACLU in Boston, said the act is unconstitutional and flies in the face public libraries' duty to provide uncensored information.

"If it were books, we'd also be screaming. You can count on us to counter this very strongly."