Local Governments Attack Pornography

A recent series of moves by local governments around America signal increasing public concern over the accessibility of pornography, both on, and offline, and demonstrate that the concept of "community standards" is still alive and well – and reaching out into cyberspace...

Our first example comes from San Mateo, California, where the familiar story of local adult bookshop owners being forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops is once again playing out. This time, city officials are scrutinizing the establishment's building permits for any irregularities, and requiring that windows be installed in private video viewing booths.

The "no private rooms" issue results from allegations that local karaoke clubs offered private rooms for use by prostitutes and their clients – although the link between San Mateo's karaoke clubs and porn shops remains unclear. According to Jaybird Books manager Carlos Berber, "We've never had a problem the same as the karaoke places. It feels like they're just picking on us."

Nonetheless, the San Mateo City Council has unanimously approved legislation requiring a 2' x 3' window in any private room in any entertainment venue – including Jaybird Books' 18 private booths – a change which will no doubt drastically lower their use. Additionally, building permits are being closely evaluated to see if permission was ever given to build the private rooms in the first place, something it appears Jaybird Books has legitimately done.

With the private booths responsible for approximately 50 percent of their sales, Jaybird Books fears that many of their customers will take their business to other cities, but will still need to install the windows by September 17 – despite the $1,800+ installation cost.

While the woes faced by San Mateo's adult bookstores are typical of the harassment that many such establishments have always dealt with, the Phoenix City Council's decision to prohibit the viewing of adult web sites at public libraries is a new twist on technology, and an encroachment that is spreading – this time to nearby Mesa, who's lawmakers are evaluating the city's public library computer policies.

According to Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker, "For someone to surf the Internet and their desire is to go to porn sites, with the public paying for that, there's kind of a whistle that goes off and says, 'Whoops, I'm not sure I approve of that.'"

In the wake of the Phoenix decree that filtering software be installed on public computers, Mesa's library advisory board will consider the issue at its upcoming meeting on September 21, with City Council members deciding on the need for policy changes based on the board's recommendation.

While computers located in the library's children's section are already filtered, adult patrons are simply asked to sign an agreement that they will not use library computers to view pornography on the unfiltered Internet-accessible computers currently available at its three library branches.

Two years ago, Mesa's library advisory board considered the mandatory use of filters, but found the current policy workable.