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Aim High

Fighter pilot determined to shoot down 'Net filtering bids



Ed Rasimus and I couldn't be more different. He's conservative. I lean left. He flew 250 combat missions as a fighter pilot in Vietnam. Born a little sooner, I would have been Hanoi Donna. Ed sides with the National Rifle Association; I despise it. Ed's a PC guy; I'm a Mac chick.

Now, though, Ed and I are gunning for the same target: attempts to force public institutions to filter the Internet.

"[Th]ere are a lot of folks who throw out the 'red herring' of protecting the children from pornography while really hoping that they can protect the world from incorrect thought," Ed told me.

Ed, the past president of the Pikes Peak Library District's (PPLD) Board of Trustees and a columnist for Computer Edge magazine, has vocally fought this battle in Colorado Springs for eight years. PPLD now only filters content in its children's sections; if the smut alarmists have their way, however, all library computers will be filtered.

A shameful filtering bill is headed to Gov. Bill Owens' desk. In January, the Senate Education Committee narrowly approved SB85 to allocate $2 million for public libraries to buy books and magazines. In exchange for the payola, the libraries must censor "obscene or illegal" Internet sites from their computers.

Who's to say what is obscene? Coitus? Bare boobs? Penis? Penis with no boobs in site? A breast self-exam? A photo of Botticelli's Venus? Or, how about a black man hanging by his neck as I recently saw on a white "racialist" site?

And if a site is "illegal" -- threatens an individual's life? child pornography? -- it is certainly not up to public librarians to seek and destroy. That would be the job of a qualified agency like the FBI.

The doofus Colorado Legislature wants public libraries to contract their Internet service through companies that filter for them. Groovy: The library administrators have to hire for-profit guns to censor the sites.

Ed expects the filtering issue to explode in 2000. "The Internet censorship issue is merely simmering," he said. He's right: State legislatures across the country are trying to creatively force public institutions to censor content that some people find distasteful. It's the unconstitutional Communications Decency Act (CDA) all over again.

Most irksome, I doubt many of the politicians who support such legally suspect initiatives are dim enough to think they could pass constitutional muster. I would guess that this bill's sponsor, Pueblo Republican Gigi Dennis, is pandering for votes from scared parents and religious zealots just as President Clinton did when he signed the CDA. I'm sure the Arkansas Rhodes Scholar knew the Supreme Court would strike down the CDA, but at least he could say he tried to "protect" the kids.

The Gazette reported that Dennis wants to prevent kids "from reading pornography, buying cigarettes or looking for bomb-making instructions. She compared it to laws that prohibit young people from buying adult magazines at convenience stores." Dennis isn't completing her thought here, though. Filtering public content will also keep many adults from free and unfettered access. And that rankles Ed and me.

"I'd hate to see a library, or a college or an Internet in which we could only access information which was suitable for a third-grader. It might be 'safe,' but it certainly wouldn't be free," Ed said. He says it is up to parents, not the government, to guide kids in their Internet choices and how they react to content.

Ed, too, rejects the smut bogeyman -- that the mere sighting of distasteful content is going to warp an otherwise-perfect kid, or turn her into a flaming radical. He used to finagle himself into the adult stacks in Chicago when he was 12. "I read Peyton Place when I was 13 and Lady Chatterley's Lover. I read Hemingway and Henry Miller by the time I was 14," he said.

Tropic of Capricorn, and Ed still turned out OK. Well, almost. "Just don't ask me to come out for gun control," he warned. Roger that.

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