FBI: Kiddie porn sent from library

A registered sex offender was arrested Thursday for allegedly sending sadomasochistic child pornography over the Internet from public-access computers at Charlotte County, FL, libraries.

Richard Edward Brillhart, 23, of 21874 Haines Ave. in Port Charlotte was secretly videotaped by an FBI agent Oct. 10 at the Murdock Public Library as he looked at "images of prepubescent children engaged in sex acts" and read a "fantasy story."
Full Story.


Any discussion of measures to control what can be done at library computers evokes strident denunciations of sexual prudery and government censorship. I'm curious to know how those people fit this incident into their worldview.

Jumping in late, as I was away most of last week ...

Many, if not most, public libraries have policies against the use of library computers for illegal acts (which users accept via click-through or other agreements), as well as general policies proscribing illegal behavior on library property.

If you steal a book, we'll report you. If you vandalize library furniture, we'll report you. If you get into a fistfight in the library, we'll report you. If you look at child porn, we'll report you. If you do something illegal while looking at plain-vanilla porn (e.g., let kids see it or masturbate), we'll report you.

We don't confiscate Sharpie markers at the door to prevent you from marking up the tables, though.

I guess.

I forgive you, for that word. BTW-I think you're correct about the other thing.

I would agree that ALA and library policies may lack sufficient nuance on the privacy issue.

I do not believe that libraries can or should promise that your actions within the library will be private or confidential to the extent that they care conducted in a public space.

I do believe that libraries and librarians should try to assure that the history of your use of the library is your own business, and that libraries should not compromise either privacy or confidentiality beyond the reality of actions within a public (and publicly-funded) space.

And I sure do agree with at least one other poster that these are complicated issues!

Thanks, Walt, for the full and considerate response. I *do* see how the original post can be read as antagonistic. I thought the "question" was worth addressing anyway, which you did quite ably in the above response. I guess one person's flamebait is another's rude reference question that requires an answer.
Just to comment on a couple of your points:
A. We've debated privacy before. This is another area in which I think it is short-sighted of libraries to promise privacy, because the term invokes judicial safeguards on search and seizure, meaning there is no more allowable "noticing" by library staff of illegal stuff, unless it is "noticed" as the result of a judicially-obtained search warrant.
B. Strange, but it happens. Many standard policies read this way, e.g., "use of the Internet for illegal purposes is prohibited in this library."


Here's what the nameless poster said:

Any discussion of measures to control what can be done at library computers evokes strident denunciations of sexual prudery and government censorship. I'm curious to know how those people fit this incident into their worldview.

First, a sweeping absolute: Any discussion..., second, pejorative wording, strident denunciatons that adds another erroneous sweeping comment about the anti-censorship folks (some of us have never mentioned sexual prudery).

Then, the question--how those people fit this into their worldview.

I didn't assign the troll score (it's not legitimate to moderate a discussion you're involved with, and that's a very sound rule), but the question was worded as flamebait.

If the question was:
"How can librarians deal with incidents such as this while maintaining anti-filtering, anti-censorship positions?"
and the intent was to make people think about answers, then the question should have been asked in a neutral tone such as that. It wasn't.

Answering the reasonable question at the heart of your comment, however:

A. I don't believe that "right to privacy" in libraries or any other public space includes obvious illegal acts, so saying "If we notice you looking at stuff we're pretty sure is illegal, we'll report you" doesn't bother me much (speaking only for myself, not for ALA or any organization or institution).

B. I suppose libraries could post a sign saying "Please don't violate the law within these confines," but that would see a bit strange.

C. It is not (IMHO) the role of librarians to ferret out possibly illegal acts--the flip side of A. But obvious or probable illegality? Call the cops, just as a librarian would if a patron was apparently fondling someone (or himself), snatching someone's wallet, etc. Not a censorship issue. Not really a privacy issue, as far as I'm concerned.

"Officially" the slashcode that runs this site does, or rather, should, label you as an "anonymous coward" just like it does at Slashdot, but Ender suggested that was a bit too harsh, so I changed it to Patron, so my guess is Walt was just using the Slashdot standard "anonymous coward"Just a little bit of blogging trivia I guess.

I want to set aside the legal stuff for now and ask that we consider what I believe to be a more critical issue.The perception of public libraries by those who subsidize them.As an academic library director I have the good fortune of not having to deal much with the filtering business. (although our school computer use policy explicitly forbids "...communications that contain obscene or inflammatory material") So I am lucky on this account.However I also serve on my local public library board. We recently had a town hall meeting last week to discuss the issue of expanding the library. Of course this was really a trial balloon for floating a bond issue.And the feedback? Lukewarm at best. Why? Because of parental fears (founded or not) of their children being exposed to or seekers of internet porn. They want a porn-free library! From my discussions with other public library directors, our taxpayers sentiments are shared by others as well.Don't shoot the messenger folks.Parents don't give a damn about proscribable immunity. For the private, special, and academics, continue the legal debate. But the reality is that public libraries are beginning to feel the heat.Again, where are you ALA?

Anonymous Coward--which isn't so far from being, like me, Pseudonymous Coward, which I like to think is pretty darn close to being Noel Coward-- raises issues that the lynch mob might be able to discern if it took a little time before exploding the troll (moderated at -1 for asking a question. That's harsh). The operative part of the question: "measures to control what is done at library computers." If something like child pornography is illegal and therefore not to be perused in a library, what measures, if any, should exist to prevent or discourage such perusal in a library? Can library staff say "If we notice you, we'll report you" in a library where the right to privacy is also promised? Or, as Abigail asks (below), "At what point do you think individual liberty should be sacrificed to protect kids?" These, I'm guessing, are the kinds of "worldview" things Anonymous Coward meant. Hope this helps.

You're right. "Coward" is too strong a word.

I apologize. For that word only, to be sure.

That does not make me or anyone who does a coward.I do not agree with the first poster, and am against filters in libraries.But I think if the web site allows anonymous posting, and if some choose to use it, "cowards" is a bit of a strong word to use.I usually enjoy your posts, Walt.

Breaking my own rule that you don't respond to anonymous cowards...

Let's see:

Child pornography: Illegal.

Number of library-specific or filtering-specific laws required to make child pornography illegal: Zero. It was already illegal. It continues to be illegal.

Relationship to "strident denunciations" of overreaching governmental controls: Zero. At least if you're talking about me or any of the other anti-CIPA/anti-COPA folks around here: I have yet to see any of us (them) suggest that child pornography should be legalized.

Oh, and for that matter, relationship of this incident to filtering, laws to restrict constitutionally-protected materials, etc., etc.: Also zero.

Your question again?

What I have to say is that you are ignoring the fact that "antiporn" censorship is based on the assumption of guilt on the part of all library patrons to begin with, and that "antiporn" measures are so overbroad and vague that they have very little to do with "pornography" of any stripe. Aside from which, you have obviously ignored the fact that child pornography falls under the heading of proscribable obscenity, which means denying access to it can be a reasonable time, place, or manner restriction.

And, by the way, that article was significantly lacking in certain details. Nowhere did it say whether the FBI was acting with a lawfully authorized warrant or under provisions of the [un]PATRIOT Act.

I wouldn't know, as I am never strident and therefore am surely not one of "those people" you're referring to.

Kiddie porn is bad because it hurts kids, and it is wrong and illegal to look at pictures of kids being raped. What kinds of measures do you, Anonymous Coward, think are reasonable to take to make sure that nobody uses a library computer for this purpose? At what point do you think individual liberty should be sacrificed to protect kids? I'm not going to fake like I have an answer to that one right now. If there were an obvious one, well, I could spend a lot less time thinking about libraries, and more time thinking about baby animals in outfits, what's for dinner, and other topics I'd really prefer.

But you do other things. You *do* have a book security system. You *do* have, or want to have, a library layout conducive to appropriate levels of supervision. You *do* have, staff and patrons hope, uniformed security. Furthermore, it is understood by all to be a public, not a private, setting. As concerns Internet usage, the point is this: if a library promises Internet *privacy*, a patron can legally invoke such a high level of protection against oversight that "we'll report you" will be laughed out of court: "So, Ms./Mr. Librarian, did you have a warrant to look over this man's shoulder? You did say he had a right to privacy, didn't you? Well, does he or doesn't he?"