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ECU librarian calls for freedom on web

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Nov. 20, 1996)   —   Gene D. Lanier, a library studies professor and outspoken opponent of literary censorship, is taking a stand against those who want to build road blocks on the information highway.
“When it comes to the Internet, it is like any other library material and there should be no blocks on the freedom of access,” Lanier said.
The award-winning spokesman for First Amendment rights to free expression said he blames the media for “blowing up the unacceptable things” that people might find on the Internet. He said the material that would be considered indecent to most people represents only a small percentage of what’s on computer networks.
He said the good things such as distance learning and the research potential afforded by the information highway are often overlooked in favor of the more sensational materials.
Lanier is a frequent speaker on this topic at meetings of library groups and other organizations. Most recently he address the biennial joint conference of the Kentucky Library Association and the Southeastern Library Association in Lexington. Librarians from 12 states attended.
In his address, he said he discussed the American Library Association’s position as a plaintiff in a case against the government’s Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. The bill forbids “indecent” or “patently offensive” speech on computer networks if the speech can be view by a minor. Last spring, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction barring the government from enforcing challenged provisions of the CDA. The Justice Department has appealed the injunction which opens the way for the Supreme Court to resolve the issue.
Lanier said the restrictions placed on the Internet by the bill could be applied to such things as scripts for plays and even articles from National Geographic magazine. He said that one national Internet service provider reacted to the original passage of the bill last February by placing blocks on their system that were triggered by key words that could tied to indecent speech. As a result, he said the system’s users were prevented from looking up articles and information about breast cancer.
“The internet could be rendered useless unless we have free access,” he said.
He said he had no problems with parents putting blocks on their home computers. Several software programs are designed to do this effectively. Children visiting libraries should get parental guidance in the same manner as they would get on a field trip.
The ECU professor has received numerous awards for his contributions in protecting First Amendment rights and fighting attempts at censorship. Among those awards are the Intellectual Freedom Award from the North Carolina Library Association and the John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award from the American Library Association.
During his recent stay in Lexington, Ky., he received an Honorary Kentucky Colonel commission from Governor Paul E. Patton in recognition of his “outstanding citizenship and service on behalf of his fellow man.”