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Child porn cases involve libraries

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By John Barnhart

Last week, a Bedford man caught viewing child pornography at the  Bedford Central Public Library in February, was sentenced to spend 16 months in prison as a result of his conviction.

    According to Sergeant Terry Wright of Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, there is a reason why some people use library computers for such illegal activity. It actually makes them harder to catch than if

they were doing it from their own computer, he said, noting investigators can’t use the computer’s internet protocol (IP) address to track the person down to his home because it belongs to the library. Furthermore, a computer in the library doesn’t record where it has been from session to session. Wright said that incidents in which people use library computers to look at child pornography happen all over the country.
    “It’s quite common,” Wright said. “There are no filters or monitoring software on the computers. Criminals use that to exploit children.”
    Two men have been caught in libraries in the Bedford area viewing child pornography on library computers and Blue Ridge Thunder was involved with arresting both. Reynolds was at the Central Library, located in the city, but Blue Ridge Thunder handled the case because the unit specializes in investigating cases that involve using the Internet to exploit children. Wright said that there are officers on the city’s police force that they work with.
    Sheriffs deputies were initially called in the incident that occurred in Montvale this past summer. Some children, teens and pre-teens, saw what a man was looking at on a computer screen and told their mother who, in turn, alerted library staff. The man had left by that time, but the library’s staff was watching for him and saw him come back. They saw that he was allegedly looking at suspicious material and used software they have to capture screen shots. They also called the sheriff’s office and a road deputy arrived to detain the man.    
    “We do have filters,” commented Peggy Bias, the library’s director.
    Bias said that the filters work on words, but not images. Some Web sites are set up to dodge these filters.
    Filters, however, are only in place for children. Bias said that adults can choose either filtered or unfiltered access to the Internet. She said that federal law requires that adults have the option to request filtering to be turned off. Parents decide on filtering when their children use library computers.
    Bias said that staff has the ability to see what is being displayed on a particular computer. The man in Bedford was caught when a librarian noticed something suspicious on the screen of the computer he was using and staff checked it out. She also said that a staff member who had been working on a computer he had been using noticed a suspicious search string.
    Bias said that the library also helped authorities with the case.
    “We cooperated,” she said. “We captured screen images for them.”
    Bias said that library staff don’t routinely monitor the computers because a law abiding citizen should be able to expect privacy. Nevertheless, there is some limit to that as the computers are in locations where anybody passing by can see what’s on the screen and library staff members glance at the screens anytime they have a reason to walk through that section of the library.
    According to Bias, the library’s policy bans using library computers to view pornography. If somebody notices a person looking at porn on a library computer, the person is asked to turn it off. If a person has been warned once, he will be banned from using the library’s computers.
    Wright said that an adult’s freedom to unfiltered access to the Internet creates the possibility of somebody opening a Web site with adult material in front of a child.
    On one hand, Wright said that it would be nice if there could be a separate section for children, or if adults had complete privacy. On the other hand, Wright said they wouldn’t have caught the man in Montvale if that had been the case.
    As things stand, Wright said that it’s important for people to be aware of suspicious activity, like they would be for any criminal activity. Children, if they see anything suspicious, should tell their parents, as the youth in Montvale did, or alert library staff.
    “We can’t be everywhere,” Wright said, “We need the public.”