Monday, 18 November 2013

Why Are Library Computers Censored?

Did you know that in Oxfordshire and most other counties public library systems are censored? This does not mean that you can't use them for browsing porn -  the weird thing is that many sites that might be considered "obscene" are accessible, while other sites for some obscure reason are not.
I wrote to my country councillors objecting to this and was told by the county librarians that the computer system has a fixed censorship filter on it installed by the makers, a firm called TrendMicro.

"Our policy is that all our computer users must agree to our acceptable user policy and agree that they will not create, access, copy, store, transmit or publish any material which is obscene, racist, defamatory or illegal, causes harassment or gross offence to others and would be a breach of copyright. Our underlying policy is that all computers, except for those dedicated to children’s use, provide uncensored access to the Internet.  However, OCC's ICT service dictates that we have sophisticated filtering software installed on our public computers which does in fact filter access to many extreme / illegal sites on all terminals. This does not conflict with our policy, as we are filtering only those extreme sites that users have explicitly agreed not to access.  PCs located in children's libraries are filtered, using basically the same filtering criteria as in primary schools.  The library computer web filtering is provided by TrendMicro, and it is they who categorise the websites and not the Library Service and to reiterate, our ICT service requires that this is installed."

But what are these supposedly "extreme" sites and when did users ever agree not to access them? Who says what is acceptable or immoral? Why are we not allowed to know the criteria and engage in discussion of the policy? Friends of mine, who are certainly adults, and using the computer access in the adult library, not the children's section, report that they cannot access Christian evangelical sites... but you can get into sites that teach you how to make a bomb. Nowadays, when children in school are encouraged to get their so-called sex education from porn sites, what criteria are left to apply?

 Who is to say what constitutes "gross offence"? Some people would call Othello racist and The Merchant of Venice  offensive to Jews. Are they censored? One headmistress decided that Jane Eyre was sexist  - is that censored? What is the sociological and political agenda behind this? The ICT service is paid by us, the public, to serve us, not to tell us what to do, what to read and what to think.  We should be treated as adults in a democracy, capable of making our own decisions,
       How can a website one person looks at be "grossly offensive to others" unless those others are peeping over your shoulder and snooping into what you read ? I think this censorship is unacceptable, and it must stop now. I am old enough to make up my own mind about moral issues and I don't need TrendMicro or the ICT team to do it for me.
    I have written to Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, the county councillor with a special responsibility for libraries, asking her about this and so far I have had no reply whatsoever. I suggest that others who also want to be treated as grown-up write to her and support this protest.

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