Phoenix library board doesn't back mayor's plan to ban Internet porn

Ginger D. Richardson
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 6, 2004 12:00 AM

If Phoenix officials decide to proceed with a plan that would ban patrons from accessing Internet pornography at library computers, they'll do so without the support of the Phoenix Public Library Advisory Board.

Members of the board met last week with Mayor Phil Gordon. The discussion, while polite and cordial, did little to alter either side's stance.

Gordon calls the city's plan to require filters that block objectionable material for all users "overdue" and "absolutely necessary."

Board members, however, feel it would violate First Amendment rights and lead the city into a legal quagmire.

The board's opposition is not a surprise. City Librarian Toni Garvey has been unusually silent on the issue, and board chairman Tim Blake has stated publicly that he hopes the city isn't "rushing to judgment" in its implementation of the proposed plan.

Garvey did not attend Wednesday's meeting, but board member Robert Villaseor Jr. was blunt with his opinion.

"It's pretty clear in my mind that we are stepping outside our constitutional bounds," Villaseor said. "You say that free speech is not the issue here, but I very distinctly see this as the issue."

Board members said that by filtering Internet content, the city would be making subjective decisions about what legal information could be seen by patrons. That, they said, violates federal law.

But Gordon said that the city already makes such decisions by opting not to carry pornographic magazines or adult videotapes. He said that he, in consultation with the city attorney, doesn't believe that the city is constitutionally obligated to provide the public access to Internet porn.

"There's enough private entities, home computers out there," he said. "People can access it elsewhere."

Gordon has asked city management to come up with an appropriate policy. It's likely the council will vote before the end of the month on a proposal that would place the filters that are currently installed on city employee computers on public library terminals, as well.

Garvey and other board members say they will act on any direction the council gives them, but board vice chairman Tanner Flynn encouraged the city to start tracking how many individuals are accessing pornographic Web sites so that they can see if the proposed policy is really necessary.

"I would like to see empirical evidence as to how many are doing this," Flynn said.

City libraries currently do not have the technological capability to track such use, but Gordon said he would like to change that in the near future.

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