The “Porn Filter” debate

CBC news reported that a bill related to porn filters in the public library was proposed by Gerry Martiniuk, a representative of Cambridge and conservative MPP.  He credits the idea to an OPP officer who witnessed a man accessing pornographic material on the Internet while children were present at the library and sitting near the man.  Dalton McGuinty, at this point, does not feel it is up to the province to impose standards or policies for pornography and porno filters in public libraries.  However, this issue has always been a hot topic in the library realm, both academic and public.

Roswell library in Roswell, New Mexico were prompted to install porno filters after a long debate in the beginning of 2009.  Initially, the library argued that it was the parents responsibility to oversee their children’s actions and access to content as reported by a local television station, KOB.  However,  in the summer of 2009, it was reported by KRQE News 13 that internet filters would be implemented in the public library in Roswell, New Mexico.  Many parents expressed their relief and support for internet filters in the local news as shown below:

Although some concerned parents are happy to support internet or porno filters.  It is argued by others that porno filters and internet filters violate the right to access information and freedom of speech or expression.  Some question whether the internet filters will lead to censorship in art, film and other artisitic forms or expression.  In addition, the role of the library and parents are questioned.  Is it the library’s role to restrict access to inappropriate materials for children?  Are librarians purveyors of the information landscape or are they nannies?  Where are the parents?  If a parent is unable to supervise their children due to work, what can they do?  In a 2007 documentary film, Traffic Control, raw footage and interviews with the American public show the pros and cons to internet filters.  The clip below features some short clips of interviews with various people in America:

In Canada, the debate on Internet filters were re-sparked by a recent case in London, Ontario.  A 71-year old man was accessing child pornography and was rightly arrested for accessing the illegal materials.  Maclean’s magazine, London councillor Cheryl Miller is for internet filters and feels that people also have a right to say “no” to viewing pornography in the library.  Although child pornography is illegal, it is argued by some that pornography is not illegal and therefore, should not be restricted to users.  In the CLA Statement on Internet Access, it is stated that the CLA encouages libraries:

  • To offer Internet access with the fewest possible restrictions,
  • To incorporate Internet use principles into overall policies on access to library resources, including time, place, and manner restrictions on Internet use, and user behaviour policies and to publicize these policies widely and post them prominently in library facilities and on electronic media,
  • To safeguard the long-standing relationship of trust between libraries and children, their parents and guardians, in developing Internet use policies and practices, acknowledging the rights and responsibilities of parents and guardians,
  • To educate their public about intellectual freedom principles and the shared responsibility of public and school libraries, parents, and guardians in facilitating access to resources in various forms of media, including the Internet.

Perhaps a fine balance to meet various users needs can be reached by providing options.  For example, computers closer to a children or teen reading area can have Internet filters while computers located away from these areas can provide filter free access to the Internet.  Another method is education, as often, the public is unaware of library policies, mandates and procedures.  The library can provide sessions on educating the public on intellectual freedom and rights that the public have in the country or province.  It is vital that public and academic libraries consider providing various options as libraries provide materials and services for a diverse user group, which can include famililes and individuals from various backgrounds.  Simply installing Internet filters will only meet the needs of one type of user group and thus, isolating others.