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Queens libraries target illegal use of computers

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In compliance with a federal law, the Queens Public Library System is taking steps to ensure that Internet users at its facilities do not access inappropriate Web sites or use its computers for illegal activity such as hacking.

“The library has taken certain measures designed to assist in the safe and effective use of these resources by all minors,” the library system said, that provide appropriate protections to its patrons.

According to the Neighborhood Children’s Internet Protection Act, in order for public libraries to receive funds from a federal technology program, they are required to form a policy to supervise Internet use.

The policy must address issues dealing with minors’ safety online and their access to improper Web sites and harmful material, said Darlene Askew Robinson, general counsel for the Queens Library System. Libraries also must be vigilant about unlawful Web activities and minors’ unauthorized disclosure of personal identification, she said.

Still, public libraries cannot go as far as to install software that monitors Internet use to filter out certain Web sites deemed inappropriate, Robinson said. Earlier this year, a federal court ruled that such technology blocks access to constitutionally protected free speech, she said

The American Library Association supported that decision, claiming libraries use other methods besides filters to protect against improper Internet use.

“Filters are not the only — or the best — way to protect children,” said ALA President John Berry in a statement. “Filters provide a false sense of security that children are protected when they are not.”

Instead, the Queens Library System’s policy offers Internet training programs for minors. In the course, the library teaches them lessons such as not to release their personal identification online or arrange for a face-to-face meeting with someone they meet in a chat room, said Joe Catrambone, a spokesman for the library system.

Thomas Alford, deputy director of customer services for the library system, said an educational Web site created by the library system dubbed “kidslinq” also has helped children use the Internet in a safe and appropriate way. It offers kids a site to do research for school projects, play games, and find books in the library.

Furthermore, librarians keep an eye on minors surfing the Web to make sure they are not downloading pornography or other inappropriate materials.

With these steps, Alford said, inappropriate Internet use “really hasn’t been a problem” in the Queens Library System.

Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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