Libraries fight ACLU over online censorship

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by ELISA HAHN / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @ElisaHahnK5

KING5.com

Posted on February 2, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 3 at 4:25 PM

WENATCHEE, Wash. --The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing a Washington library district, for censoring what kinds of websites adult patrons can access.  

If you log on to a computer at the Wenatchee public library and type "porn" into the search engine, the list of results will appear as if porn doesn't exist.  

The North Central Regional Library District banned pornography from its computers. The censorship also means other websites are blocked. The board decided it's a matter of a safe work environment and its responsibility to the public.

"We believe having pornography in public places hurts our ability to accomplish our mission," said Dan Howard, director of public services.

And that mission is to promote reading and lifelong learning.

Dania Martinez came here to check her email with her 3-year-old daughter.

"It's proper because a lot of parents bring their kids into a library," said Martinez.

But the policy also means the library has to block some popular sites, like Google Images, that disable their filter.

"We cannot allow any access to an internet site that would subvert our internet filter," said Howard.

The ACLU accuses the library district of having an overly broad filtering policy "that has prevented our plaintiffs that are an artist, a college student, and a gun magazine, from accessing perfectly reasonable material," said Doug Honig, spokesperson for the ACLU.

The NCRL, which represents 28 libraries in the central part of the state, admits the filtering policy puts them in the minority. Other libraries have taken the stance of non-censorship, citing First Amendment rights.

Some patrons say it just works in their community.

"Even our local college you can't access porn, and that's older people," said Kimberly Beason, a library patron.

Customers can request the library to unblock certain sites on a case-by-case basis. The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the library district two years ago. The case is now pending in federal court.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story overemphasized the NCRL's effort to block one category of websites -- pornography.  The ACLU believes the library is improperly blocking access to many types of sites. -- KING5.com.

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