Friday, December 18, 2009

Two and a Half Million Dollars in Jeopardy Due to Possible Fraud?

SafeLibraries proclaims today: 

Two and a Half Million Dollars in Jeopardy Due to Possible Fraud 

at the Brooklyn Public Library. He believes that the library has taken government funds that make the library subject to the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA), but is violating the terms of the act by allowing adult patrons to view pornography on library computers.  

If I may present my non-lawyer's opinion in opposition to his non-lawyer's opinion, SafeLibraries is here again showing that he doesn't understand what the CIPA law says, nor the related US v. ALA Supreme Court decision that upheld that act. The act does require that libraries accepting certain government funds implement internet filters on all library computers. But both the act and the decision require that adult patrons be able to deactivate those filters on demand. This is necessary to keep the filter requirement constitutional, since even highly accurate filters will sooner or later block an adult from accessing material he or she has a legal right to access. SafeLibraries seems either unable or unwilling to acknowledge this, even though he quotes part of the Supreme Court decision that explicitly requires the bypass option:

Concerns over filtering software's tendency to erroneously "overblock" access to constitutionally protected speech that falls outside the categories software users intend to block are dispelled by the ease with which patrons may have the filtering software disabled.
In his post, SafeLibraries acknowledges that the pornography in question is legal (neither of us has reviewed New York state laws on the matter).  He also acknowledges that the viewers are adults, not minors.  There is, then, no basis at all for his claim that the library has committed some kind of fraud, has violated the CIPA, or has violated any other kind of law.  There is no basis at all for his assertion that "the library needs to comply with the law or return the money."

I agree with SafeLibraries that the library could probably do more to limit the upset caused to some patrons when other patrons visibly access pornography on computers inside the library.  Privacy screens and policies restricting the use of library computers could both work in that direction.  These would be voluntary, however, and not required by law.  But SafeLibraries prefers legal restrictions to common-sense policies.

What is most disturbing about SafeLibraries' post is his unfounded claim that "legal pornography may be excluded legally."  It is true that in some states the law restricts the access of minors to some kinds of pornography that are legal for adults.  But that is not the question in this case, which is about adult access.  If the material in question is legal for adults, and is being accessed by adults, who, by law, have the right to bypass the CIPA-required filters, what is the legal issue here?  I invite SafeLibraries to post a comment explaining that here.

This is a clear example of why censors cannot be trusted.  The CIPA was designed to protect children from pornographic materials, and while the practicality of that law is dubious, it's goals are laudable.  But SafeLibraries, and others, want to take this law places it was never intended to go.  They want to use a law designed to protect children to restrict the legal activities of adults.  They want to use a law designed to protect children to restrict the Free Speech of adults.  You can never give them an inch, for they will surely take a mile.


  1. Dan isn't a lawyer? I thought he proclaimed to be. I asked him once where he got his law degree and he declined to answer, citing," privacy."

  2. SafeLibraries most assuredly is NOT an attorney. His understanding of Free Speech law is somewhere between infantile and delusional.