Joho the Blog » Washington court decides the Net is its content, not access to content

Washington court decides the Net is its content, not access to content

I’m not saying that there’s an obvious answer to this question, but a court in the state of Washington has decided that libraries have the right to filter Internet sites available on library Net connections.

The court came to this by choosing among analogies. The Internet is like a library’s collection:

“A public library can decide that it will not include pornography and other adult materials in its collection in accord with its mission and policies and, as explained, no unconstitutionality necessarily results,” wrote the majority, led by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. “It can make the same choices about Internet access.”

Ok, I can see that. But the Internet is also not like a library’s collection. It is a protocol that gives access to materials, not the materials themselves. Why then should a library be able to control what (legal) materials I want to access? Why isn’t that plain old censorship?

On the third hand, I do understand that libraries may not want porn on display to people who are just passing by a terminal; nor do they look forward to guys viewing porn with one hand in their pocket.

Nevertheless, if I were the judge, I would have decided that libraries ought to be in the open access business, not the censorship business. (Found via ResourceShelf)

21 Responses to “Washington court decides the Net is its content, not access to content”

  1. The difference is evident in that a library PAYS a blacklister a fee in order to stop you from reading material that the blacklister secretly determined to deny.

    Sigh. I spent far too much of my life fighting this in the past :-(. And blogging was a con related to it, see

    http://sethf.com/anticensorware/censored/

  2. Joho the Blog » Washington court decides the Net is its content…

    Joho the Blog » Washington court decides the Net is its content, not access to content…

  3. Charges of “censorship” are often applied rather loosely, and I believe you might be doing that here. Unless the censor is a legal entity with authority to enforce its judgments broadly, I’d hesitate to describe all acts of selection, curating and editing “censorship.”

    I agree that libraries are a peculiar and important category in such debates, and I likewise prefer libraries to be as open and unfettered as possible. I don’t want librarians (or anybody) deciding what I can read on the internet. But there’s a case to be made for them deciding what can be accessed in the library they are charged with curating.

    Would you argue that school computers be required to allow access to all materials? How about computers in a church social hall? If I provide a free wifi signal, am I required to leave it untouched?

    I’m not sure about these answers. But categorical charges of “censorship” seem to miss important nuances.

  4. Howard, I have mixed feelings about this (as my first line indicates), which is why I use the term “censorship” only quizzically (and thus loosely, as you charge). Nevertheless, I’m willing to lightly defend it. The degree to which it looks like censorship instead of curation correlates strictly (I think) with the degree to which one sees the Net as a collection or as a means of access, which is what my point was.

    I don’t have a problem with a school blocking Net access to block porn, because porn is illegal for under 18 year olds. But I would have a problem with the school “curating” out sites that present radically alternative views of history, science, etc. Since porn is legal for adults, I am unconvinced the libraries should block access to it. After all, libraries also curate out scurrilous history books, but that’s because (presumably) the finitude of the library’s resources requires it to make decisions. But the Net does not suffer from that finitude. So why should libraries filter out legal content? If it’s because it does not like that content, why can’t we call that censorship? If you could have a library that gave access to all legal content in the world, wouldn’t that be the ideal? Well, we can. So, why don’t we?

  5. not access to content…

    Joho the Blog » Washington court decides the Net is its content, not access to content…

  6. Note as an intrinsic problem, censorware must deny anonymity and privacy in order to enforce the control – i.e. it’s never about only porn, just by nature. See my old and mostly-ignored report on one example,

    BESS’s Secret LOOPHOLE (censorware vs. privacy & anonymity)
    http://sethf.com/anticensorware/bess/loophole.php

  7. Me really thinks that the book “Who controls the Internet” (here) gives exlanation of such trends like the court decision about library right to control the content.

    I do not say, I blindly support a library decison to filter information coming to its computers, but I’m now convinced, after reading the book, that some level of content control is not against the spirit of the Web.

    The devil is in details though… Living a part of my life under communist cenzorship — I know how devastating it can be. I’m not sure we know a right balance when it comes to the practical application of the control …

  8. When traveling in the US a couple of years ago, I used the internet at Chicago public library (beautiful building BTW). There was a queue for access. When I glanced at the young guy next to me, he was looking at hardcore porn.

    I actually don’t have a problem with public libraries blocking links to porn sites or kicking out patrons looking at porn. There are other places where you can access that kind of material and there are users who want to use the facilities for education rather than titillation.

    Of course, the irony is that many books contain graphic descriptions of sexual activity but as there are no pictures involved, it doesn’t seem to rate the same level of outrage.

  9. Joho the Blog » Washington court decides the Net is its content…

    Joho the Blog » Washington court decides the Net is its content, not access to content…

  10. Joho the Blog » Washington court decides the Net is its content…

    Joho the Blog » Washington court decides the Net is its content, not access to content…

  11. not access to content…

    Joho the Blog » Washington court decides the Net is its content, not access to content…

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