Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Appendix 8
Summary Minutes: Favoring Limited Access for Minors

September 22, 1997
7:30-10 PM


Explanation of procedures and overall process by Father Tom Shanks (TS)

Will the report by the Markkula Center (MC) be made public?

TS-Yes as far as he knows.

TS: How well does the paragraph from the handout you received capture the question? (TS reads paragraph: "the key question is how minors should be guided in their use of the Internet.") Is that the key question?

Very evasive way of putting it. The question is this: Why are minors in the public library allowed to display, exhibit and distribute pornography? It is against the law to do that in the State of California. That is the key question.

Yes, it's an issue of legislation in keeping with existing law. It's illegal everywhere else except in publicly supported, tax-payer sponsored libraries for children to have access to that kind of illegal matter. The word "guiding" sounds a little bit anemic.

How do we get the library system to comply with the law that's already on the books?

How does the library set this policy without the input of the community. E.g., at the meetings where this policy is set--Is this made public? It's the bureaucrats who set the policy and not the public as it should be.

The library acquisition policy was set in 1974 and it was text based. The public has never had input to that policy.

America has always found a way to regulate its new technologies. We regulate the television, the phone, radio. The laws are there in place and we're just saying that those laws should be enforced.

It's not appropriate to say the Internet is so hard to control. That's ridiculous. You just turn it off. The libraries could offer a service that provides just certain sites and excludes pornography.

Have there been any court cases that verify or allow the library to do what is against the law?

(law student) There is a CA district court case that held that libraries are exempt from penal code 313. I'd frame the issue that even if the libraries can't be legally held to protect minors through the use of filters on the computers why wouldn't they do it any way?

Yes, I have a lot of trouble when this issue gets framed just in legal terms because that has the effect of turning it over to lawyers and judges. We should restrict this issue to the narrow scope of the lawÑit is an issue of ethics, morality and community standards.

(Barry Stenger (BJS) from MC asked if this position of grappling with this issue at the community level and as a moral issue rather than fighting it out in the courts is a perspective shared by this group tonight.)

Yes, that's a fair statement.
We're not for censorship.
We don't want to see a state law passed as just occurred in Ohio. We'd rather see it happen at the local level. But the current situation with the children accessing pornography is untenable.

And that's where litigation will be the solution if the community can't come to consensus on this. To put this in perspective, the group working with KIDS have been working on this for about a year, going through all the proper channels and they have had the door slammed in their faces because policy already exists and people with more power than them have already decided. And that's troubling, for what about the next issue and the next issue. The larger issue is how much power does the library assn. have independent of the community.

Yes, it is a question of power. The Library Assn. has circled their wagons and have become defensive about it. They're uncompromising. It's become a contest of power between the people and the bureaucracyÑand the bureaucracy is winning.

As a footnote to that from our surveys we've gone out in the community and found that the numbers are running 10 to 1 and even 20 to 1 of people in favor as opposed to those against. And yet you go to the library and other committees and get no hearing, no offer to brainstorm and to come up with a solution. Instead you get accusations that "these people are in favor of censorship" "you're radicals," "you're dangerous" "you're against the first amendment." Those things were said about people trying to protect their kids from pornography. And that's been a very deep disappointment and has damaged the credibility of the library as a trusted institution in our community.

(Materials were passed around that demonstrates support for limiting access from parents and legislators. Also some of the graphic pornographic material that can be accessed on the Internet was distributed. Also the stacks of signed petitions from those in favor of limiting access were displayed.)

TS-Summarized the various questions he was hearing voiced:

  1. Why are minors allowed to exhibit, display and consume pornographic images in a public library?
  2. How does the library go about setting policies at large?
  3. Even if the libraries can't be held legally, why wouldn't they want to restrict it?
  4. Shouldn't members of the community and not just bureaucrats be allowed to solve this issue at the local level?

In all these questions, is there one that's fundamental?

It's not "Why?" but "How?" How should minors be protected from viewing pornography at public libraries.

Again, I'd like to say that the fundamental question is it's a tax supported entity that should have accountability to the public it serves. I think pornography is important but the real issue is who's going to set policy of an entity that is supported by public funds.

There's a basic assumption that underlies what everyone's been saying and it's the common ground that we share. We all agree that pornography is repellent for children. The question is whether the other side agrees. Is this common ground that we share? If we can't agree on that then we have a much more fundamental problem.

I want to get back to the way that you (MC) put the issue - how should minors be "guided" in their access to the Internet? I'm offended by that. That completely waters down the issue. That's not why we're here. We're here because some people did not do their job. We hired a librarian to decide what materials are appropriate to come into the library and they allowed the Internet to come in. And for them to say that they did not know that this pornography was there shows that they were not competent enough to know what they were doing. The issue is this that minors should be protected from obscene materials found at the library at the expense of taxpayers.

TS--So let me be clear here, is "protection" the word that you want to use. Is it to protect minors from pornography in the library?

To restrict and protect,.
That's it.

I wish pornography wasn't there at all. (tape was turned here) But there are laws that protect adults' rights to view that. But we have the right to protect our children. It's age inappropriate. You can't even get a driver's license until you're 16. There are numerous things our community does to recognize our larger responsibility to protect children. That's why we have laws, teachers, churches. The moral ecology is being threatened. Some say, "well, just don't let your kids go to the library." But it's a bigger issue than that. It's not just that my kids are going to the library; it's that other kids are going to the library that are going to date my kids. That's why this issue is so big. Not every kid is going to go into the library and click up pornography but enough kids have had the experience of unintentional contact in an age-inappropriate context that community's everywhere are going to rise up about this. I agree with the ideal that I hope we can reach some compatible common ground, but the reason that legal aspects are being brought up is that no common ground has been found up to this point. Basically we've been told to take your radical position and go home because we are autonomous here and we get to do what we want.

(Discussion of who is a minor--generally agreement that it's 17 and under. Some input on legal opinion about the distinction between indecent and obscene material.)

TS--What about the issue of those who would say "I don't want you to protect my children."

In 313.1 there are allowances that parents could take their children to the adult computers in the library and show them pornography. But as the librarians keep claiming they are not in locus parentis so they do not have the right to show children pornography.

All of us are affected by other people's children, that's why we restrict alcohol, cigarettes. The whole different thing is the Internet. When my child got a library card, I read the material that said regardless of age all materials are accessible to children. It didn't seem like a great idea to me but I looked around and saw books that are reasonable and librarians I trusted. Now I feel that I want that control back. I don't think librarians can be trusted, they've put that machine in there that allows a child to get lots of stuff that I have no say over. I have no control. It gets back to public trust. We gave them our trust but it appears that was ill-placed because the policy has broken down.

No complaints when it was just print materials but now it's access to all of cyberspace and this changes everything. And it's flooded with all kinds of despicable things.

BJS--We make moral arguments based on analogy-X is just like Y therefore we should do with X what we did with Y. On one hand I'm hearing that here tonightÑit's just like TV or radio so let's apply the same rules. But I'm also hearing that this Internet is a whole new ball game, so maybe it's not analogous. Is it so different that we can't apply the same rules?

No, the Internet has come along as a piece of new technology. It's just technology. There's no reason to change our ethical standards just because of this technology. We just have to apply our moral standards to it. In the presence of this new technology we have to do some different things and most of us agree that filters is the solution. The problem is created by technology so the solution happens to require some new technology.

Yes it's a whole new ball game because it's no longer just texts, books on the shelf. With the Internet you have access to the whole adult world. I agree that yes it's a high tech system and we need to solve it with high tech solutions.

No, this is not a whole new ball game, it's ethics and moral principles. Having pornography on the Internet is just a new distribution service. The same old principles still apply. We can't say that this is a whole new technology so the old rules don't apply. That's what librarians are saying. The same legal stuff applies but the libraries say they're exempt. But people are coming out saying no.

It's not a whole new ball game. We're just seeing that the library's existing policy that says that parents can't know what their children are exposed to is now being seen for what it is. And parents are saying enough is enough. We're now saying this is a stupid policy and maybe we don't know how to change it but we want to make an issue out of it. And what about accountability--what if a child goes to the library and on the Internet makes a date with pervert. Who's going to be held accountable? I want the open access people to answer that question.

TS--Let's focus on the question of "How do we protect child from pornography on the Internet?" What about filtering software? Is it the solution?

(Long discussion about the technical issues about filtering software-control of filtering, method of filtering, use of bar codes, and the cost benefit analysis of various scenarios. These scenarios were submitted in written form)

Now that we're talking about solutions, I want to ask is the library really open to solutions, because in the past they haven't been and I what to know if we'd be wasting our time discussing them.

I'm for filters, not censorship, for filters. And President Clinton is for filters. And the Supreme Court said in striking down the Internet obscenity legislation that effective filtering software is widely available.

American Library Assn. allows for filters.

Yes, he's right the JPA/CAC is not interested in discussing this matter. I've been at their meeting and asked question and they would not discuss it. Us sitting here discussing this distresses me.

BJS--(questions from the floor were presented)

a whole group of questions that had to do with filtering and the answers dealt with a lot of technical info on how filters work with stress on the local administrator of the filtering software and their responsibility)

TS--What about the question that asks about the appropriateness of a private company (software developer) making decision for a public entity like the library?

That's not an issue. The library buys its computers from a private company, its carpets, it heating system. Of course they can buy a filtering program. There's nothing intrinsically evil about a for-profit company.

The local administrator of the filter can control the way the Internet is filtered.

Each community should appoint a committee to perform the function of deciding on what should be filtered. The librarians don't want to do this and I think have demonstrated their inability to do it.

SafeSurf has developed this ability for local administrators at the request of the libraries they are working with.

(More discussion about how filters work)

BJS--(questions from the floor were presented)

(Other activities on the Internet e.g. chat rooms? not available at libraries)

(More on who restricts if we use filtering. More discussion on the nuts and bolts of filtering)

I've seen those pictures and they're offensive. I'd gladly give over some of the particulars just so that we can get on with it. We have to address some of these gray areas and get out the worst of it. We have to be careful that we don't think that filtering is going to solve this whole thing. We as parents still have to take responsibility. I get upset with those say "it's all up to the parents and the libraries can take that responsibility. You're crazy if you think that filters will take care of all of it." I know filters won't get rid of all of it. I still am going to sit down with my kids and make sure I monitor what they see. We're not abdicating our responsibility. But we can't keep quibbling and quibbling and not doing anything is harming more and more children everyday.

TS--Do most people here agree with what's just been said?

Yes, Yes, Sure, Absolutely.

TS--How do you understand the library's position in all of this?

They don't want , they don't have to, they're not going to and that's it.

They have the power.

The ALA has deep connections with the ACLU. The librarians have all been given the ALA national position and see us as this radical group who won't go away and we won't. As these petitions show we have broad community support.

(more on filtering--technical questions)

The libraries have an absolute First Amendment position. But that's illogical because how can they censor our group but say they're against censorship.

How can the library survive if they're going to distance themselves so much from the general public. They cannot. Many people will not contribute to support them.

TS--There's a question here that asks why the CAC involved the Markkula Center. And that goes back to the concern that if this issue is going to be resolved we have to get beyond the fighting and have thoughtful discussion. The CAC has a lot of serious questions and they're trying to make a thoughtful decision and hear all the sides. . .

I have to disagree with you. They have never sat down and talked with us. Never. We have asked from the very beginning to sit down with them and they have not been willing. Susan Fuller has stated publicly that she will not meet with Sandi Zappa. And they are using you to avoid talking with us.

A little band aid on the problem.

There are individuals who are open.

Maybe this is an effort on their part to say maybe we've been a little too biased and maybe we need to bring a third party to map this out a little better.

We're feeling placated by this.

I'd like to return to the ALA issue. It's a huge issue. That the ALA position is being adopted in opposition to the larger community concern is bizarre. Who has the power to establish this kind of policy? They're not elected officials, legislator, but they're adopting a position that then controls our entire community.

ALA is absolutely fanatical about this.

TS--What about the position that the librarians take that they want no limits to materials in the libraries. The only reason they have to chose now is because of limited shelf space or budgets.

You mean if they could they would put Penthouse, Playboy and Hustler on the shelves. I can't agree with that. That's illegal for children to view that. We're talking about children and we're talking illegal and everything else you guys keep going off on is a distraction. Children and illegal, it's not that hard to understand.

What's coming up on the screens at the library is illegal and that's what we have to filter out. The legal method of filter may not be perfect but it' as close as we can get at this time.

(Discussion about court decisions)

(Discussion about whether MC has taken a stand on library Internet access)

(Discussion on how the Internet began)

TS--Is there any common ground between the position we've been discussing tonight and the position of the Library?

There's a blatant disregard for our position on the part of the library. SafeSurf was offering the libraries to try out their filters for 30 days and that wasn't even considered.

I think the common ground is parent control. Filters, PIN #'s and other ways give me the control that I want.

(BJS--The question was about common groundÑAre you saying that the common ground is parent control and that both you and the library agree on that?)

Oh no.

I don't think there's any common ground.

What's the common ground? We're at a much more basic level than that. Do we condone displaying pornography to children? I don't think we even agree on that. They condone it.

No, at the JPA/CAC they agreed that children should be protected from pornography. And I think that the scariest thing of all. Because how then can the libraries think they can still get away with displaying it to minors?

I think the libraries would consider How to protect the children. Do they care about the children?

I think the ALA made the mistake because they formed their policy because of some 17 year old college students but they didn't distinguish among minors and opened access to kids all the way down to 2 year olds.

I don't think the ALA policy leaves room for common ground. And as long as the JPA intends to follow it to a "T". If you want common ground then take what ever action you can constitutionally take to protect the children unless you don't believe that the First Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court is not an adequate protection.

TS--What might be a starting place for you and the JPA to sit down a find common ground?

The starting ground would be for the JPA to review its decision to adopt the ALA Bill of Rights. We as a community didn't have input when they adopted it so now give us an opportunity in a democratic fashion.

Ask "Do we agree that our children should not view pornographic material that is recognized as illegal for them to view?"

( a period of lots of folks talking at the same time)

There's disagreement about what kind of protection children need.

I think that it would be significant if the JPA was willing to review its adoption of the ALA position. We've had no say over that.

The sticking point is right out of the gate--the ALA policy about open access.

It's not a matter of us being afraid of the technology or the Internet. That's common ground we both want the technology.

BJS--So I'm hearing that you do not object to having your kids be exposed to things you would rather have them not see, but they realize that given the way libraries and the Internet are structured those kids are going to look at it.

No, that's the opposite of what we're saying.

BJS--So if you only ban what's illegal then there will be all kinds of stuff that your kids will be able to see--stuff questions whether Jesus is the Son of God, etc.

No we're only talking about what's illegal, we're only talking about pornography.

Stay on the subject. We are only talking about pornography. And that's why I objected to that first paragraph about guiding kids on the Internet. That's not why we're here tonight. We're here because the library is providing pornography to children against the parents wishes and at the taxpayers' expense.

BJS--I bring this up because I think this reveals some important common ground. Some would say that the library stereotypes your position that you're against anything that you find objectionable on the Internet and what you're saying here is that you're not. You're only against what's illegal.

That's correct. Yes.

We've been vilified by that from the beginning. And it's not our position. They keep bringing up the Holocaust-"Is that next?" That's ridiculous.

The law defines pornography in terms of what does not have merit and the Holocaust falls under what has political merit.

The law is only for bad people, it's not for good people. So why should we have to force the law on the library, why don't the good people involved in the library, JPA, just apply relevant thinking to community standards and say, let's stop the pornography.

TS--(Drew the meeting to a close with some concluding remarks about the staff of MC being available for further conversations)

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