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Library Filters Please Some, Concern Others

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FAYETTEVILLE — When you surf the Web, you know how easy it is to run across risque or pornographic sites. The federal government recently required all public libraries to put filters on their computers to keep surfers on the straight and narrow. But not everyone is happy about installing the software.

Library Director Jerry Thrasher worries that if you are looking for something specific, you may not be able to find it easily -- because the filters can block you from certain sites. And he thinks that steps on your First Amendment rights.

Angela Vann disagrees. She comes to the library five days a week to search the Web, and she believes computer filters are a good idea to keep people from visiting pornographic sites.

"It's public money," she says. "I don't think the public should pay for someone to pull up information that is not educated."

In December, Congress passed the

Children's Internet Protection Act

. Part of the legislation requires all library computers to have filters by next year, if the library gets a certain type of federal funding.

The children's computers in Cumberland County already have filters, but Thrasher does not think they should be installed on the computers used by adults.

"Libraries have always been about access to free information in a democracy," Thrasher says. "That's why we have a deep concern about filtering of the access of information."

Here is an example. With a filter, searching under the word "breast" may prevent pornographic material from popping up, but you will also have a hard time finding information about breast cancer.

Now, on behalf of libraries across the country, The American Library Association and the ACLU are suing.

"I just don't think they should infringe on our freedom of speech, and that's what they are doing," Thrasher says.

Despite his beliefs, Thrasher says if the lawsuit fails, the Cumberland County library system will comply. If not, they could lose $80,000 in federal funding.

Cumberland County's library policy already prohibits people from looking at obscene Web sites. If someone is caught three times, they can be banned from the library.