Phoenix Proposes Ban on Removing Web Filters

Ed Palomar
PHOENIX — The Phoenix City Council is considering passing regulations that would make it illegal for adults to remove filters from public library computers that block access to some Internet sites. Mayor Phil Gordon plus most councilmembers reportedly want to take swift action on the measures.

Vice Mayor Peggy Bilsten stated: “I am not willing to wait for the state to take a stand. This is too important.”

The proposals appear to be a response to the recent arrest of a sex offender who had preyed on children. The sexual predator was arrested after he had gone online at a Phoenix public library and managed to view pornography.

The Arizona brouhaha may be the latest instance of the fallout over the U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). On June 23, 2003, the high court ruled that Congress can compel public libraries to install anti-pornography filters that purportedly blocj porn sites on their computers. Public libraries that did not install filters by July 1, 2004 faced losing their federal funding.

The rationale that’s commonly invoked for justifying filtering is that it protects children from viewing porn while web surfing. However, opponents of filtering in and out of the Grand Canyon State perceive filtering as a form of cyber-censoring, and they cite civil liberties and other concerns.

State Sen. Bill Brotherton (D- Phoenix), “Whether or not people should be going to Playboy.com really gets you into a sticky First Amendment issue. First of all, you have to look at what is pornography, what is art. And who is going to make that decision?” the legislator asked.

The problem is actually much broader, as software used in filtering the Net can be wildly imprecise and often blocks access to non-adult sites. Phoenix Public Library Board Chairman Tim Blake said, “If they block too much of the public’s access, that’s the real damage that might be done.”

For example, after a Mt. Lebanon, Pa. public library installed filters, access was blocked to at least 25 commonly used websites, including ones regarding pensions, police jobs, arts and crafts, Villanova University, the University of Michigan and Star Trek. This software also universally blocks access to words such as “black hole” and “breast.”

Blake warned that if the Phoenix City Council approves the proposed measures blocking the removal of Net filters the city could be sued.