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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Action extends library system's Internet filters

By Christopher Schwarzen
Times Snohomish County bureau

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Sno-Isle Libraries will install Internet filtering on every library computer beginning tomorrow.

The move brings the library system, which serves Snohomish and Island counties, into compliance with the federal Children's Internet Protection Act, a heavily disputed law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer.

Under the act, all library-card holders will automatically have filtered Internet access, but patrons age 17 and older will be able to request unfiltered access. No one under 17 will be allowed unfiltered Internet use anymore.

Before the change, parents could request unfiltered Internet access for children under age 18, said Mary Kelly, the library system's spokeswoman.

Filters should prevent access to sites featuring sexuality, nudity, pornography and other adult content. Computers near children's sections will use even more extensive filtering, which also should restrict access to e-mail, chat sites, or sites promoting hate, discrimination, weapons or violence.

Until now, about 9,000 of the system's 92,000 cardholders under 18 have had parental permission to access any site on library computers, Kelly said.

This month, the library sent out about 54,000 notices to cardholders informing them of the change. As of the first day the notices were received in the mail, Kelly said she had received about 20 phone calls.

"Overwhelmingly, the response has been positive," Kelly said. "I think we'll find that some people will say we haven't gone far enough."

Fliers and notices also are available at the library system's 20 community branches and its mobile libraries.

Sno-Isle Libraries has offered filtered Internet options since 1998, so librarians said they expect few problems with the service.
 
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"I think the change addresses concerns that many people have shared for a number of years," said Rebecca Loney, the Snohomish branch's managing librarian.

"By the same token, we're also addressing the needs of our entire diverse community that we serve."

Though the act isn't compulsory, the library system would have lost about $8,000 in federal funding that helps pay for Internet access, Kelly said. The library system's board also felt it should honor the Supreme Court decision, she said.

The Everett Public Library, meanwhile, will forgo about $400 in federal funding for deciding not to comply with the law. It will leave Internet-access questions up to parents.

"That's a decision for parents to make, whether it's the Internet or books," said Mark Nesse, the library's director.

Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act in 2000, requiring that federal funding for library Internet access be tied to the law.

The American Library Association and others challenged the law on the basis that it forced libraries to potentially violate First Amendment rights in order to protect a federal funding source.

The Supreme Court ruled that Internet access was a research tool like any book in a library's collection and that libraries that didn't shelve pornography were already protected from violating First Amendment rights.

Christopher Schwarzen: 425-783-0577 or cschwarzen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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