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X-rated issues

Library, police clash over pornography, First Amendment

By Bobby Ampezzan, The News-Herald

PUBLISHED: March 5, 2006





SOUTHGATE - Resident Jennifer Czajka and her 3-year-old daughter were denied admittance to the city library's computer lab recently because, librarian Jean Walker told her, "Things go on in there that children shouldn't see."

Walker was talking about pornography. And while many are concerned about children seeing such images being accessed by adults, others fear libraries might have become prime locations for sexual predators.

On Feb. 7, Wyandotte police Detective Scott Galeski asked Southgate Veterans Memorial Library's head librarian, Joyce Farkas, for Internet user records possibly pertaining to a known child sexual predator who uses chat rooms to make contacts.

Farkas demanded a court order. When Galeski got a subpoena for user records, he was told the library destroys its sign-in sheets daily.

While Farkas said patrons must show their library cards to use the Internet, no records are kept, and librarians say fake names are often used on the sign-in sheet.

One librarian, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said patrons noticeably older than 18 are not required to show any identification but are simply asked their names.

The librarian added that some give wrong names because they switch names each time.

One such patron who did not have the foresight to proffer a false name was Ian Thomas Ormanian, a frequent Internet user at Southgate Veterans Memorial Library.

The 23-year-old Lincoln Park resident was apprehended earlier this year in a Macomb County Sheriff's Department sting operation for arranging through an Internet chat room to meet what he believed was a minor for sex.

In reality, the "minor" was an undercover police officer.

Predators use public Internet connections, such as businesses and libraries, to ensure that their actions leave no trail. A trace of the Southgate Memorial Library, for instance, would yield an Internet Protocol address shared by 54 other libraries in the area.

"I've had a tough time with libraries," Wyandotte Detective Rick Weise said. "I don't know what (privacy) policies they have to follow ... but they're not universal."

Weise often finds the records poorly kept and the staff unwilling to release user information.

Weise has nabbed three men attempting to arrange meetings between themselves and a "14-year-old girl" in the last month alone.

Harve Holland Jr. of Wyandotte, Andrew Vinyard of Brownstown Township and Cleveland Bonds of Taylor have all been arraigned on one count each of arranging for child sexual abuse and communicating with another to commit criminal sexual conduct.

Each count is a maximum 20-year felony, and the cases are "rock solid," according to Weise.

Libraries "do have a right to protect privacy," Galeski said. "But facilitating child molesters doesn't protect anybody."

"I don't see the privacy issues with it," Weise said. "It's a public computer."

Jennifer Czajka agrees.

"It's scary," the 27-year-old mother said. "They need to have someone monitoring content."

Like many in the community, Czajka uses the library's Internet because she wants to take advantage of the information and offers "I pay bills online and print off coupons" but a cable connection at home is too expensive.

"If I'm in there by myself and a guy is looking up porn ... to me, that's like harassment," she said.

"Yeah, you can run into that kind of guy anywhere, but a public library?"

Librarians have caught patrons viewing pornography and have asked them to leave, according to the aforementioned librarian, but they cannot permanently refuse service to a patron.

"I'm just fed up," said another librarian who also fears reprisal.

"The public library is not a place to drop your children off," the librarian said.

Farkas, Southgate's head librarian, agrees.

Citing a library policy prohibiting unattended children, Farkas said minors should be accompanied by an adult at the library.

Librarians interviewed for this story, however, said they won't typically turn children away.

On the other hand, they agreed with Farkas that the library should be a place that protects people's rights to privacy.

"The American Library Association protects people," one librarian said. "And people should be protected."

The library association adopted a resolution opposing filtering software soon after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a June 26, 1997, opinion, ruled that "communications over the Internet deserve the highest level of constitutional protection ... (equal to the) protections that apply to the books on libraries' shelves," the resolution says.

"We have the monitoring (warrantless wire taps) controversies from the White House that are an issue," Farkas said. "People must know that the library will protect their rights to privacy."

She argued that, like a city park, the library also is public space that should not be indiscriminately monitored.

Southgate Library Commissioner David Grubbs supported Farkas at a recent meeting.

"We're not a nursery school," Grubbs said. "And I really don't want people knowing how I use the computer."

When asked if he would support the addition of filters, such as "Websense" used at the Taylor Public Library, he argued that no filter can decipher a person's intent.

That sentiment was echoed by River Rouge Librarian Vanessa Morris.

"Filters aren't perfect," Morris said. "(They) often block out valid information that people are trying to access."

Unlike Taylor, public libraries in Lincoln Park, Belleville and Wyandotte do not filter adult computers. But unlike Southgate, they do filter computers reserved for minors.

In fact, all libraries must comply with the state's Library Privacy Act of 2000. Public Act 212 prohibits libraries from offering unrestricted Internet to minors if unaccompanied by an adult.

Farkas said the policies at Southgate Veterans Memorial Library were "formulated by the Library Commission, myself and the City Council ... according to Michigan privacy laws." She also said that based on the commission's meeting last week she is researching filtering software at the request of Mayor Norma Wurmlinger, council members Phillip Rauch and Theresa Lannen, and others.

"Sometimes you have to use common sense," Grubbs said about filtering software and public disclosure policies. "(But) I would say most people on the commission are privacy oriented."

Farkas welcomed public input at the next Library Commission meeting, set for 7 p.m. March 21.

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