Sonoma County libraries won't install filters to block porn

For Ellie Muelrath, the case for putting Internet filters in Sonoma County's libraries was made vivid last December.

With three children in tow, she was looking for Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" when her stepdaughter, then 12, glimpsed one of the public computer screens at the main library in downtown Santa Rosa.

"She whispered, &‘Oh my God, that guy was looking at porn,'" Muelrath said.

Such experiences inspired the Sonoma County grand jury to again push the library to use Internet filters in its annual report released this summer. The grand jury also recommended reorganizing the layout of the computers to make them less visible to passersby in the downtown branch.

But both the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Sonoma County Library Commission are declining to follow the grand jury's recommendations.

On Wednesday, supervisors sidestepped the issue, saying that library policy is governed by a seven-member library commission.

Last month, the commission wrote a lengthy response outlining practical and philosophical flaws with using software to limit where people may go online and with rearranging computers.

No library patron should be subjected to objectionable material, the response said. But it also said no one viewing things on the Internet should be subject to the censorship from a computer program that decides what is appropriate.

Software filters are costly, ineffective and rife with troubling questions about where the line gets drawn, the statement said. Sexual images offend many, but what about violence or even extreme political views, asked Julia Freis, a local attorney and a member of the commission.

"When you start censoring, it is a slippery slope," she said. "We don't really want to be in the position of censoring. It's against the library's mission."

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