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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 19:46 GMT
Internet filter question on Michigan ballot

Internet terminals
Public-access internet terminals are becoming increasingly common


As people in the small Michigan city of Holland go the polls in the Republican primary, they are also voting on a controversial proposition to install internet filters in the local library.

Holland is believed to the first place in the US to vote on a measure with would make filtering software mandatory in a public library.

Supporters of the measure say it will shield children from viewing pornography or other offensive material on the internet.

Filtering software prevents internet users browsing certain pages - with individual pages or pages containing certain keywords being screened out.

Nationwide

The measure is sponsored by the conservative American Family Association (AFA), which gathered around 2,500 signatures to put the proposition on the ballot.

Holland has a population of 31,000.

But Herrick District Library itself believes that the problem has been exaggerated.

"This is a manufactured problem," said Gary Pullano, a library spokesman.

"We encourage voters to become aware of the situation ... to come to a library, to see that we don't have a problem here."

Holland Mayor Craig Rich, an opponent of the proposal who describes himself as conservative, said the ATA merely hoped to score a victory in order to take the issue nationwide.

"I have hopes that the issue will fail on the ballot and the people of the area will then have a sane and sensible discussion ... instead of one forced by the American Family Association's commando tactics," Mr Rich said.

Protection

If the proposition wins, the library would lose city funding unless it installed the filtering software.

Supporters of the measure include Holland mother Carolyn Scoby who says she was using the internet at the library when pornographic pictures started popping up on the screen.

"If it happened to me, it could happen to kids," she says.

"The library is not doing enough to protect them."

But opponents contend that filters don't work and would prevent library patrons from accessing legitimate information.

The Family Research Council, a conservative group in Washington, is buying newspaper ads and holding forums in support of filtering.

And Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has spoken out in favour of the measure.

Some public libraries have installed filters on internet terminals in children's sections, while others have experimented with smart cards which entitle the user to filtered or unfiltered access.

Parents can set the level of access they consider appropriate for their children.

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See also:
19 Feb 00 |  Education
Children warned against net predators
16 Jun 99 |  Sci/Tech
Unesco steps up fight against Internet paedophiles
11 Oct 99 |  Education
Net porn warning for pupils

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