echoes sentinel

debate on computer filters continues

26 february 2004

long hill twp. - by jason goemaat, staff writer - © recorder newspapers 2004

the library board of trustees walked the fine line on letting residents know they're being listened to, while not rushing to any snap decisions about the installation of anti-pornography filters on township library computers during its wednesday, feb. 18 meeting.

at its jan. 21 meeting, the board established a subcommittee to fully look at the practice of filtering and whether it could or should be used in the library.

residents for and against filtering told the board what issues should be taken into consideration regarding filtering.

"i'm still finding it difficult to understand why the question is still should we or shouldn't we (put in filters)," said steve delia of millington. "instead it should be how do we do it."

his desire for filters stems from the federal children's internet protection act, which is intended to prevent children from viewing pornography on library computers by installing internet filter software.  the supreme court upheld the act as constitutionally valid last june.

during the past few months, delia has presented himself as a public voice in favor of filters, speaking about it with the library board and at a township committee meeting.

at the meeting, he tried to find out when the board would make a decision on whether or not the library would use filters on some or all of its computers.

board member brian boylan, who will serve on the filtering subcommittee with members phoebe sharpe and jerry klawitter, said the committee was in the process of gathering information about filters and wouldn't rush to any snap judgments.

"there are a lot of issues out there," he said.  "it's not a simple matter of should we filter or shouldn't we."

boylan spoke about his experience researching different filtering programs.  he said he found a "troubling" filtering program, which could track what web sites a person went on.  he added that most of the sites he visited are "biased" in terms of being in favor of or against filtering.

boylan told the two audience members there was a lot of information to go through and that board members are volunteers who can't devote "40 hours" a week to go through enough information to make informed decisions on filters.

boylan said the board had sent out surveys regarding internet filters to all 35 other branches in the morris county library system and received responses from 17 branches.

out of those libraries, boylan said only the jefferson branch responded it had internet filters on all its computers.  the morristown, morris county, kinnelon and chester branches said they used filters on the computers in their children's department.

"we wanted to see if we were the lone wolf (not using filters)," boylan said.  he said the results he's gotten back so far indicate the libraries that use computer filters are in the minority.

opposite views

"i would urge the subcommittee to lay out a plan (to practically administer filtering)," said delia.  he told the board he realized that installing filters wasn't a simple issue and had different facets, but "i don't think it's all that complex either."  he stressed that library patrons can ask to have the filters turned off, which eliminates the possibility of censorship.  "it kind of meets the best of both worlds," said delia.

since long hill library does not receive federal funds, it is not required to have filters installed on the computers.

gillette resident and library patron brad payeur, a member of the audience, disagreed.  "i very strongly feel that we should not have any filtering at all," payer said.  he said a library has to represent the viewpoints of the entire township, not just one "special interest group," which wants filters.  payeur said in the end those who want to view pornography will find a way to see it, regardless of filtering.  "i applaud you all for not censoring anything," said payeur.  he said internet filtering could only lead to censoring of other things.

klawitter said the board will research the issue thoroughly in the coming months.

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