library porn subject of federal lawsuit

27 march 2003

by marc morano, senior staff writer - © 2003

a dozen female employees of the minneapolis public library filed a federal lawsuit this week accusing the library of creating a hostile work environment because of its policy of allowing unrestricted access to internet pornography.  the women claim the freely available smut in the library's personal computers is attracting hard-core male pornography users who act in a threatening and abusive manner toward the library's female staff.  the suit also alleges that some of the men publicly [mastxxxxxxx] while viewing the pornography at the library terminals.

bruce a. taylor, president and chief counsel for the national law center for children and families, a group opposed to the availability of internet pornography at libraries, called the lawsuit "a microcosm of the whole issue."  "this is a good example of how hard it is to protect not just kids, but even the general public, and how pervasive the porn problem is even in libraries," taylor said.  "even the best intended librarians can't control the problem, and even the ones that want to try are not being permitted by their own public trade union," taylor said.

the lawsuit, filed in u.s. district court in minneapolis, charges that the library system's refusal to restrict internet pornography from being downloaded has created an embedded group of users who "react angrily and at times violently if any effort was made to interfere (with) or halt their access to pornographic materials."  the lawsuit seeks $450,000 for each woman for enduring humiliation, emotional distress and anxiety of the working conditions.  the women say the library's insistence that its employees "should not interfere in any fashion with what the patrons were viewing on the terminals" attracted increasingly larger numbers of porn consumers.  several of the women claim the library porn users stalked them.  one of the women said a pornography user from the library followed her home on the bus, according to the saint paul pioneer press.  the same man was later was arrested for allegedly abducting and raping another female at knifepoint who rode on the same bus line as the library worker.

the lawsuit follows a complaint filed in may 2000 with the u.s. equal employment opportunity commission.  although the complaint resulted in some changes in policy, the lawsuit claims the library has not enforced any of the new regulations.

'children's internet protection act'

taylor believes this new lawsuit filed by the female employees of the minneapolis public library will help advance internet pornography restrictions by the federal government.  "this is probably one of the best examples in the country of why congress had to pass the cipa (children's internet protection act)," taylor explained.  cipa requires public libraries and schools accepting federal funding for discounted internet access to install filtering software. congress passed the law in 2001 to ease concerns that libraries were not adequately blocking websites inappropriate for children. but a three-judge federal appellate court in philadelphia struck down the cipa in may of 2002.  the u.s. supreme court heard arguments earlier this month on the constitutionality of cipa.  the american library association (ala) argued that government-mandated filters violate the first amendment, while lawyers for the federal government claimed that if libraries are going to accept federal funding, they have to follow the intent of the law as passed by congress.

taylor's national law center for children and families and the group concerned women for america were among several conservative groups that filed a friend of the court brief with the u.s. supreme court in january.  taylor believes cipa imposes "reasonable" requirements on libraries that receive federal funding and steers clear of some of the first amendment problems.

emily sheketoff, the executive director of the washington office of the ala, said she was aware of the minneapolis lawsuit but maintained that pornography is not a serious problem in libraries.  "[internet pornography] is really not a big issue for our [library] membership," sheketoff said.  according to sheketoff, librarians, when surveyed, complained more often about the limited availability of computers at libraries and about the technology itself.  libraries get more "complaints about the amount of response time people have to wait" for websites on dial-up modems than issues like pornography, according to sheketoff.  in ala survey's, "less than 7.5 percent (of librarians) said content was an issue in their library," she added.  the ala opposes cipa because "every expert agrees that depending on technology will not protect people.  education is the way to protect your family," sheketoff said.

the ala initially filed suit against cipa and won the case before the federal appellate court in philadelphia.  taylor believes the minneapolis lawsuit will bring a whole new dimension to the internet porn debate.  "this lawsuit starts out with a group of plaintiffs who are in the battlefield.  they are in libraries, they are actually seeing first-hand - there is no hypothetical here.  this isn't like the conservative versus liberal or the pro-censorship vs. anti-censorship," taylor said.

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