An odd little news item I came across tucked away inconspicuously yesterday reveals that two people were banned from using the city library's computers in the last three years for *allegedly* accessing porn. Rather oddly, I thought, there wasn't any comment on the significance of this, especially as it was in response to a Freedom of Information request which presupposes that the information wouldn't have been revealed otherwise. It doesn't say what they were looking at, but to rate a three-month ban it can't have been anything "serious" and obviously wasn't anything illegal. In any case I believe that Coventry Libraries are one of the majority of UK public libraries who use Websense to block supposedly objectionable material.
The argument used in favour of having this sort of ruling is that users are accessing material in a semi-public place and that in any case some people would not appreciate their Council Tax being used to fund the provision of free porn. On a very simplistic level, that argument has a certain degree of merit - but as an ex-librarian who always firmly upheld the principle that consenting adults should be free to choose for themselves what material they do or don't read and look at, I find this particular form of censorship - and that's basically what it is - particularly abhorrent.
Throughout the history of libraries, there's always been a tradition that access to free speech is an important right to be safeguarded against attempts by "the authorities" to censor and block it. It's rather sad, I think, that in the 21st century the very technology which should make it easier than ever before to promote the free exchange of ideas is now being used instead to stifle it.