Vice Squad
Sunday, May 27, 2007
A Filtering Irony

Last night I posted about the initiative in Monroe County, New York, to make it difficult for library patrons to access "pornographic" websites on the internet. The post was motivated by this (not work safe) article in Adult Video News.

The AVN article quoted Bill Smith, a Monroe County legislator. I didn't mention the quote in the blog post, but I e-mailed Mr. Smith last night concerning his quote. I wouldn't have mentioned the e-note on Vice Squad at all, except that my e-mail to Mr. Smith was not received because it was filtered out, according to the automatic reply I received last night. This is not the first time this has happened to me -- because vice policy-related e-mails often contain words which alarm e-mail filters, they occasionally are screened out by over-inclusive filters.

Yes, filters are both under- and over-inclusive. In Buffalo, soon-to-be required filters will be screening out internet content at public libraries. I suppose that it might be hard for legislators to imagine that there might be "legitimate" reasons to access "pornographic" websites, but as a vice policy researcher who both frequently uses library internet connections and who visits sites such as, I can assure them that it is so. I take these filters somewhat personally, as I am more likely than most people to be inconvenienced by them.

Anyway, as I cannot successfully transmit my e-mail to Mr. Smith directly, I will append the text of it below. I was pointing out the difference between a library collection decision and the filtering mandate, using Justice Souter's words. (I misspelled Justice Souter's name in the original email but correct it below; I also omit the url of the article in my reproduction of the email.)


I just read a story by Jed Nottingham, "Rochester Library Will
Censor Web Viewing," which included a quote from you. (The
article is at, a website that could easily fall afoul
of internet filters; the article's precise url is [omitted here -- see above].) The paragraph including your quote is...

"If adopting the recommendation is censorship,
then this library is already in big trouble,"
said Bill Smith, the Republican majority leader
of the county legislature and a county library
board liaison, "[The] act of choosing books is
censorship and [you] have a collection policy
that implies and, in fact, results in rejection
of material all the time."

I just wanted to point put that there is what I take to be a
significant difference between a collection policy and the
internet filtering. I'll let Justice Souter make the point,
from his dissent in US et al. v. American Library
Association, Inc., et al., 539 U.S. 194 (2003):

...In the instance of the Internet, what the
library acquires is electronic access, and
the choice to block is a choice to limit access
that has already been acquired. Thus, deciding
against buying a book means there is no book
(unless a loan can be obtained), but blocking
the Internet is merely blocking access purchased
in its entirety and subject to unblocking if the
librarian agrees. The proper analogy therefore
is not to passing up a book that might have been
bought; it is either to buying a book and then
keeping it from adults lacking an acceptable
“purpose,” or to buying an encyclopedia and then
cutting out pages with anything thought to be
unsuitable for all adults.

All the best.


Jim Leitzel

Update! Blocked again! I emailed Monroe County to provide the url of this post, and once again, could not get my e-mail through. That's quite an efficient email filter they have there. I'll try another message from my yahoo account. Further update: it looks as if the yahoo e-note made it past the vigilant Monroe County filter.

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