Michigan town grapples with Internet filtering

Should city money be withheld from a library that doesn't restrict Internet surfers from pornographic sites?

Voters in a small Michigan city rejected that idea in yesterday's primary after a conservative Christian group petitioned to have the issue placed on the ballot. It is believed to be the first case of a community voting on Internet access issues.

The American Family Association, a Mississippi-based organization known for boycotting the Walt Disney Co. because of the company's support of gay rights, collected the necessary 2,000 signatures to have the issue placed on the Holland, Mich., primary ballot. The group wanted to prevent children from being able to view pornography and other objectionable content on the Herrick District Library's computers that allow free Internet access.

If the measure had passed, Holland would have to hold back its annual funding for the library. This year the city provided $1.2 million of the regional library's $4 million budget. The other government bodies that pay for the library are not considering holding back their contributions.

The American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed making filtering mandatory because both groups consider it a form of censorship. Access to harmless sites is often inadvertently prevented by filtering software because the sites may include words or phrases that the software is programmed to block.

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