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View Diary: The Bane of Banned Books (162 comments)

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  •  Just back from the library (20+ / 0-)

    I'm just back from the library, where I saw the annual display of banned books. It's always proudly displayed, like they're really into total freedom to read whatever.

    So it seems a little ironic when one of their policies, concerning the computers, is:

    The Library employs technology protection measures (filtering software) in an effort to block access to sexually-explicit material...
    Let me see that display again, Henry Miller? James Joyce? What are you doing celebrating upstairs and blocking downstairs?
    •  There aren't going to be libraries where you (12+ / 0-)

      can access sexually-explicit material on public-access computers, or on your own computer if you're using your library's public-access wi-fi.  This is a bridge too far.  

      The problem is, one person's "sexually-explicit" is another person's "art film" and this gets to be hugely problematic.  

      •  Or the filter gets out of whack (16+ / 0-)

        and suddenly no one can do research on breast cancer on the library computers because THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

        Prayers and best wishes to those in Japan.

        by Cassandra Waites on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 09:18:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Happened yesterday in the library, as a matter of (17+ / 0-)


          A patron was attempting to click on a link to the SW Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, but the link was blocked.  Which embarrassed me.  But in the blurb that comes up about why the link was blocked it gave the reason as "porn".  The patron was humiliated and outraged.  I was, too, and apologized profusely.  I called technical support and told them to fix it.  Right now.

          •  filters are not perfect (6+ / 0-)

            and in many cases they restrict things that should not be restricted. and i do think they need to be better.

            but i have no problem with the library trying to keep people from looking at hardcore porn across the hall from a kids reading class. maybe that makes me a bad democrat, but i think it's common sense.

            •  Except that in order to restrict porn you have (4+ / 0-)

              to restrict things that you would think don't need to be restricted.  As an example, if you don't restrict HTTPS to a handful of whitelisted sites then someone could use that to circumvent the filters.  In fact, for library filters to work properly they should block EVERYTHING except confirmed "good" sites on a whitelist.

              There is no saving throw against stupid.

              by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 09:55:04 AM PDT

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              •  not arguing that (3+ / 0-)

                at all.

                filters are inefficient and there are almost always ways around them. I'm not savvy enough to know how to do it, but I can't imagine it's that hard.

                But I do support the idea of keeping an area where we want kids to be as much as possible as kid friendly as possible.

                maybe have it like a movie store, have an adult room without filters or something like that. most likely that's not a good diea, but you get the idea

                •  Well what some libraries do is have "privacy (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Trobone, Cassandra Waites, Temmoku

                  screens" available (which prevent anyone from viewing the screen except at just the right angle, no questions asked.  Also, they can be temporarily disabled for a person if they are causing problems in which case the person is also given a privacy screen as presumably they are looking up possibly sensitive medical information like breast cancer, birth control, HIV, or something similar.

                  But like I said, they only way to be truly effective is if they block everything except confirmed good sites on a specifically approved whitelist.  That would definitely mean no VPNing into work from the library wifi as a VPN is a fairly common way to bypass filters (along with SSH port forwarding).

                  There is no saving throw against stupid.

                  by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 10:14:12 AM PDT

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                •  How about supervision? (6+ / 0-)

                  There are libraries here in Vermont that explicitly state that they do NOT use filters on their computers and that parents are expected to be responsible for their children and provide appropriate supervision.

                  As a parent, all I ever ask is to have the information I need to make my own decisions about what is appropriate or not for my child.  If I know there may be images on the computer at the library that are "offensive" then I know to monitor my child's activities and whereabouts. I never expect any other person or organization to do my parenting for me!

            •  I have to agree with you. (4+ / 0-)

              When we first got internet access (the kind with pictures, not gopher and telnet) the library policy was completely hands off. To censor the internet was just like censoring content in books.

              What innocent little lambs we were.

              The problems started almost at once. Men came in and openly drooled over naked pictures, in full view of every other person there, including kids. This was not a one-time weirdo thing, either. It happened all the time. Staff had the very unpleasant task of confronting panting men and politely asking them not to get themselves off in the middle of the library. One guy we used to call "coat man" because he would cover up his study cublicle with his raincoat while he looked at porn.  It was completely disruptive. It made the environment impossible for everyone else. The staff found it abusive and hostile. Worse, policy insisted we defend "coat man" his right to access content.

              That was the unfortunate consequence of our open access policy. That is why we have filters now.

              "YOPP!" --Horton Hears a Who

              by Reepicheep on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 04:08:34 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  I just tried it using Windows' parental filter (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            the no-frills filters that come with Windows.

            I had zero problem accessing the SW Gay & Lesbian Film Festival site.

            Maybe your library has some very outdated software.

        •  It would be (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Be Skeptical, Temmoku

          too bad if research on breast cancer was blocked, but that could fixed. However, I do think we should think of the children when it comes to exposing them to porn in public places, including libraries.


          by jennybravo on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 09:47:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It can't be. There are two many new porn sites (1+ / 0-)
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            popping up all the time that the only way to be reasonably effective is to use keyword blocking so unless the filter is run by a sentient AI there is really nothing that can be done.  In fact, the only way to really be effective is to block every site except those that have been confirmed to be clean using a whitelist as any new site could end up being a porn site or a way to circumvent the filters (why do you think google translate is almost always blocked?).  Of course, my experience is limited to FortiGate brand devices (like this one so they might have come up with something better but I doubt it.

            There is no saving throw against stupid.

            by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 11:10:09 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Not true. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              see my comment below.

              Maybe you are being sold expensive junk.

              •  No, it works OK without keyword filtering (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                but the number of false negatives (allowing inappropriate sites through) jumps considerably.  Did you test to see not only how many porn sites (especially the lesser known ones) get through but how easy or hard it was to bypass with the various anonymous proxy lists available from any google search?  Oh,  and because it has to work on people's personal laptops as well you can't use HTTPS content filtering because that requires installing a custom SSL certificiate so the firewall can act as a "man in the middle" to decrypt and then re-encrypt the content after scanning it.  Try to use HTTPS filtering that way and every secure site will throw a certificate error.

                There is always a tradeoff between false negatives (letting sites through that should be blocked) and false positives (blocking sites that shouldn't be blocked).

                There is no saving throw against stupid.

                by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 11:33:16 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  People here are worried about legit sites blocked (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  not so much about how effective the porn blocking is.  I was able to weasel into some porn sites, but the overwhelming majority found on simple searches seem to be blocked.  I'm sure savvy users can do better, or use anonymous proxies, but are those people really going to go to a public library to do that?  Really?

                  The best libraries can do is put up a good faith effort to provide access to important information to patrons without providing them easy and free access to porn.  

                  •  This was for schools, not libraries where there (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    are quite a few students who know how to find new circumvention methods and spread them around.  Even then, whitelisting (either individual sites or entire categories of sites) was not used because it would make it nearly impossible to keep up.  Whitelisting is useful in high security environments (i.e. computers with medical records) as well as for certain specific accounts like the backup account (which has full access to everyone's files and only needs to be able to access the remote backup server).

                    As for the hardware, it has several different blocking methods including individual site whitelisting, category whitelisting (i.e. allow all sites classified as "education" and "government" but block everything else including unknown/new sites), category based blacklisting (i.e. block all porn sites) with or without keywords.

                    There is no saving throw against stupid.

                    by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 12:19:56 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I agree, school computers are a different case (0+ / 0-)

                      so a higher incidence of  "false positives" might be more acceptable.

                      •  Considering that we had to change the passwords (0+ / 0-)

                        on the firewalls a few times because a student got the password by installing a keylogger written in handcrafted assembly (so that antivirus software didn't detect it because it was completely new code).  Oh and it was the individual schools that determined how the blocking should be done, I was just one of the many techs who blocked/unblocked whatever was requested (and firewall stuff was only a minor part of the helpdesk support requests).

                        There is no saving throw against stupid.

                        by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 03:48:00 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

            •  I always thought the best solution... (0+ / 0-)

              ...would be to create a porn domain. I think .xxx is available.

              I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

              by itsjim on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 02:14:25 PM PDT

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        •  Actually these filters are pretty good now (3+ / 0-)

          I tried the Parental Controls feature that comes with Windows, and just selected a block for pornography.  Googling "breast cancer" I was able to access any breast cancer site I wanted to see, but when I searched on "Women with Large Breasts" it denied me access to the site "Sexy Women With Tiny Waists and Huge Breasts (88 pics)"
          And this isn’t even a very sophisticated blocking feature.  Most of the problems people have noted here are either based on very old experiences or in situations where the library is using very old software.  Or perhaps the library is trying to use a list of pre-approved sites, which is absurd.

          •  The problem is that when it comes to things like (0+ / 0-)

            libraries and schools, "pretty good" is often not good enough for many people.  As an example, try to get to porn sites like that one by using or (be sure to use HTTPS).  Having dealt with trying to keep up with blocking various new circumvention techniques for over a year (as using a list of approved sites wouldn't be practical and while circumvention sites are eventually blocked it can take a week or two for new ones to get included in the updates) I can easily see why turning on simple keyword blocking can be so tempting.

            Unfortunately people expect way too much from the filtering technology, kind of like people expecting metal detectors in schools to stop a school shooting even if the shooter is willing to just shoot the guard and walk through.

            There is no saving throw against stupid.

            by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 08:27:57 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Sure (3+ / 0-)

        But it's the same thing. No getting around that.

        The library has policies I don't like, but they have to cover their ass. Like a junior high library that bans a book to appease parents.

        I just always find it ironic, as I referred to above.

    •  I agree (4+ / 0-)

      with a library policy of blocking access to porn. I've been in the library when a man was looking at porn. Anybody walking by could see it, including kids.  And nobody wanted to sit by him either. As a woman, I know I would not to sit next to a stranger watching porn.

      Sexually explicit literature is different. You would have to make a point to read it on someone else's computer.


      by jennybravo on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 09:43:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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