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Hillsborough votes to limit library Internet access

Commissioners vote 4-3 to draft a law extending porn filters to all computers. All but four already have the software.

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000


TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms came to the commission's meeting Wednesday with graphic evidence of what she says is a problem with computers in county libraries.

She showed commissioners downloaded pictures of young women bound in chains and one of naked girls in sexually provocative poses.

Storms wants to make sure nobody can get access through county libraries to Web sites offering images like those, so Wednesday she proposed requiring them to equip all public computers with screening software that filters out pornographic sites.

The library system, which has 60 public computers throughout its branches, has such software in place on all but four computers in the main library.

The system's Library Advisory Board decided to put the filters in place last year after Storms began investigating Internet access in the libraries. A mother had complained to her that her 8-year-old daughter had accidentally been exposed to obscenity while walking by a computer someone was using.

Put a policy in place to fix this, she told the advisory board, or commissioners will do it for you.

So the advisory board had screening software installed. It also put the monitors of the four unscreened computers underneath the tables. Their screens are visible through a window in the table that is shielded by a black plastic cover. It's almost impossible for anyone other than the person using the computer to see what's on the screen.

But Storms didn't think that was enough to protect children. "So what that they can't see it?" she said. "We know sexual predators are using our libraries."

At Storms' request, sheriff's Sgt. John Herring told commissioners about a case in which a sexual offender used a library computer to send pornographic images to a minor.

The board voted 4-3 to have County Attorney Emmy Acton and County Administrator Dan Kleman work on a law to extend filtering software to all library computers. Library board members, accompanied by director Joe Stines and representatives of the ACLU, were not happy about that.

"We've done everything humanly possible to protect youth," said Stines. "We feel like what we've got now is working."

Opponents of Storms' motion, including Commissioners Pat Frank, Ben Wacksman and Jan Platt, said they didn't want to override the library board and didn't want to censor what adults could see or read.

"A balance has to be struck between freedom and responsibility," Wacksman said.

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