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Libraries debate Net filtering

The filtering of Net access at public libraries receives very different reactions from two city councils, which are balancing concerns about online smut and censorship.

The notion of filtering Net access at public libraries received very different reactions from the city councils of Coppell, Texas, and San Jose, California, yesterday, where officials tried to balance concerns about online pornography with cries of censorship.

Silicon Valley council members voted 8 to 3 against a plan to Next decency fight: libraries create "children Internet zones," by installing blocking software on computers designated for use by minors at the cities' 22 libraries. Councilwoman Pat Dando's proposal was inspired in part by the Supreme Court's decision on the Communications Decency Act, in which Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's partial dissent suggested creating "adult zones" to keep kids out of the Net's red-light districts.

San Jose's Library Commission supported the idea, but it was opposed by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Mayor Susan Hammer, who helped defeat the plan.

In sharp contrast, the Coppell City Council voted 5 to 2 to filter Net access for all patrons of the William T. Cozby Public Library.

Both decisions come after the American Library Association issued a policy in July stating that the nation's data repositories shouldn't filter Net access, even though Boston and Ohio, for example, already are limiting access.

Despite opposition by the Coppell's The CDA: Case closed Library Advisory Board, the city will attempt to bar adults and kids from pulling up Net sites that may contain full nudity, partial nudity, gross depiction, or sexual activity. City staff has already recommended the use of the program Cyber Patrol to get the job done.

Those in favor of filtering were concerned about the availability of pornography in cyberspace. People who fought the proposal say current blocking technology is not fool-proof, and that it often cuts access to sites that could have educational or social value.

"As a librarian I am opposed to filters in all formats. I strongly believe it is the parents responsibility to monitor what their child hears, sees and reads," said Lex Ann Seifert, a Coppell Library Advisory Board member.

"It is dangerous for a city to put controls over library content into the hands of a company like Cyber Patrol." she added. "We don't know that these people have the views of Coppell at heart."

Also in Texas this week, the Library Commission in Austin voted 6 to 1 in support of a proposal to allow unfiltered access for adults on two of the eight Net terminals at its main library. Since April, the Austin Public Library system has been filtering all online access for nudity and sexual acts, although the categories were much broader when the blocks went on in February.

The commission, which acts as an advisory board, is trying to win back some computers that let adults surf without content controls. A community roundtable is being held on issue on October 2.