Thursday, February 22, 2007

From Substitute Teacher to Library

"If you find yourself the victim of pop-up ads on a computer, with children in the vicinity, you could face decades in prison."
The above is a quotation from Ryan Russell's Windows Secrets article, "Pop-up ads can land you in jail". Mr. Russell presents an excellent synopsis of the situation Julie Amero, a substitute teacher, has found herself embroiled in as a result of pornographic pop-ups witnessed by children on an infected computer in her classroom.

The Children's Internet Protection Act (PDF) states that local educational agencies, elementary and or secondary schools and libraries that accept revenue from a federal tax on telecommunications services must have web filtering in place. The web filtering is to block sites with obscenities and child pornography must filter Web access to block sites with obscenities and child pornography.

In the Julie Amero case, there was no web filtering in place yet she is facing up to 40 years in prison. As published in the Democrat and Chronicle (article no longer available) (D&C), it appears that the Central Library of Rochester has apparently been following a rather unusual policy of turning off the web filtering:
"Web sites blocked by filtering software may be unblocked at the request of an adult. A privacy screen is put on the monitor, and places where people can view unblocked sites is limited."
Unfortunately, the "privacy screen" was rather less than effective as hidden cameras by a local television network illustrated pornography on the computers in plain sight of passers by.

Monroe County Executive, Maggie Brooks, is threatening to pull $7.5 million in county funding for the Library if the library doesn't tighten restrictions to Internet access to pornographic materials. The D&C article indicated that accounts for about 70 percent of the library's budget and would essentially put the library out of business and cripple the library system in Monroe County.

In a follow-up article (also no longer available), the legal representative to the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was indicated by the D&C as saying the ACLU will consider suing the library if it doesn’t allow adults to get Web sites unblocked.

What did the Central Library overlook by allowing such a policy?  
First, of course, it certainly sounds to me, although I am certainly not a lawyer, that the library was disregarding the Children's Internet Protection Act by allowing library patrons to view pornographic websites.

Second, the library staff apparently has not been following the Amero case. An infected computer can essentially take on a life of its own. Pornographic websites are notorious for being sources of computer viruses, trojans and rookit infections.

If a library patron visits a site with a new variant that is not in detection by the library network's antivirus software, what happens to the next person who uses that computer? What happens if the library network is infected? What happens if a child or children are exposed to pornographic pop-ups as a result of such an infection?

I would remind the ACLU that public libraries are funded by tax-payer monies. As a result, in addition to the obligation to follow the law, it is also the obligation of the library to protect public property.

On one hand is a substitute teacher, a victim of what is in my opinion, an irresponsible school system who is facing sentencing on March 2. On the other hand is library system jeopardizing the the entire library computer network by allowing the unblocking of pornographic websites on library computers.

What a sad state of affairs.

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