New federal legislation will take effect this week aimed at stamping out internet porn use on public computers. The law is specifically written to prevent graphic visuals from gracing computer screens in public libraries and schools.
Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires communities to create a policy of Internet standards and then set up filters to ensure those standards are met.
Obviously, this legislation is being met with skepticism.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit claiming CIPA violates the First Amendment. So has the American Library Association, and the Maine Library Association.
The idea of librarians across the nation standing up to protect porn is amusing to me.
I know that librarians are often stereotyped as socially inept bookworms armed only with thick glasses and an intimate relationship with the Dewey Decimal system.
But somewhere along the way, I forgot they are also crusaders of knowledge by encouraging people to read. The increased knowledge reading brings creates a more educated public, and an educated public makes rational decisions.
Apparently, the only people reading are the librarians. Censoring in a public library tramples on the First Amendment.
It is hard to argue with the idea of filtering out pornographic pictures from the Internet while used in schools. Kids and porn are a bad mix. I’m not arguing that. But forcing public libraries to filter out naked pictures is like removing books from the shelves. Requiring “community standards” for the Internet is equal to the community deciding which books to burn.
But in order for this law to work properly, a filter must be created to suit a certain community’s definition of appropriateness. The community standards will be decided by “members of the community.” This means a few individuals will decide what types of photos create “hostility” and which are acceptable. It is unconstitutional to allow a few people to set the moral standard for society. As an educated person, I take pride in my ability to make my own decisions (call me crazy).
The conflict arises when safety enters the equation. I don’t want to be harassed at the library. There is something creepy about being in a quiet space with a stranger nearby looking at pornography. It’s never happened to me, but it would freak me out. I, for one, do not want to feel like I’m at a peep show while picking out a good beach book. I guess that’s the whole point.
So libraries are faced with a few options. They can try to censor, but will be heavily criticized for it. They could simply stop offering Internet use and stick to books. But the Internet is an amazing (and expensive) resource for information. It needs to be available for free to those who cannot afford it.
The lawsuit by the ACLU and American Library Association is not about protecting the right of creepy porn watchers. It is about avoiding a precedent that allows a select few to create the moral standard.