Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Public Internet access can over-expose kids

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Nov. 7, 2012 at 5:07 a.m.

A library is typically considered a safe place for children. After all, what can be safer, more sheltered than a building devoted to books and knowledge?

But one Victoria mother was shocked while helping her daughter work on a school project to see someone using a library computer to access what appeared to be pornography. While we agree it is shocking to think a person would use a public computer to access such materials in a place children frequent, we also know this is a difficult situation to balance.

While this discussion may be new to Victoria, it has already been a topic of concern in other parts of the nation. The balance of free speech and protecting children's innocence is a complex issue, and we think the Victoria Public Library's current policy handles this well.

The library's current policy prohibits users from accessing any illegal materials, such as child pornography, but does not limit adults from accessing any specific website or keywords. Users under the age of 18 have the option of using either a minimum or maximum level filter when using a computer, but must have a parent's permission to change the filter level.

We agree with the library's current policy, as it prohibits illegal activities, but does not cause undue limitations to usage, such as banning certain keywords, which could limit access to searches on medical or other harmless topics. However, we do encourage parents to be aware of what their children are exposed to and teach their children how to use the Internet without stumbling upon pornographic websites.

We also think the mother's actions were correct in this instance. She expressed her concern to library personnel and allowed them to deal with the situation. While this does leave the library in a cat-and-mouse situation, it is better to alert staff to a potential problem than ignore it.

Many people see public Internet usage as a free speech issue protected by the First Amendment. As long as users are not doing anything illegal, they have the right to access whichever websites they please. If this issue is classified under the protection of free speech, we must acknowledge that free speech covers both the good and the bad. While we do not like the idea of others accessing pornography in a public place, we must acknowledge they have the right to choose what they do on the Internet. But with this in mind, we applaud the library for taking steps to encourage users to be respectful of others. And we encourage the library to look into more ways to offer privacy and protection for children using public computers.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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