February 17, 2006

They Hate Us for Our Pornography

by PG

And therefore we must reduce our pornography in order to keep it safe. Or something like that.

The Washington Post reports that last week, two "officers of the security division of Montgomery County's Homeland Security Department, an unarmed force that patrols about 300 county buildings -- but is not responsible for enforcing obscenity laws" -- walked into a Bethesda library, announced that patrons were not to view internet pornography and asserted that one patron was viewing it. There's been a lot of mockery of the officers, who according to Montgomery's chief administrative officer thought they were enforcing the county's sexual harassment policy, which forbids the "display of offensive or obscene printed or visual material" in the workplace, but in a public space such as a library is overridden by the 1st Amendment right to view offensive material.

More seriously, though, I wonder what brought the officers into the library into the first place. Had someone felt sexually harassed and went to complain to them? It either was an unusually free-speech disfavoring library employee, who would have a complaint about workplace harassment, or someone with a misconceived idea of how far sexual harassment policy extends. There also are the many questions raised by the presence of the officers. I'm willing to believe that Montgomery Co., an upscale suburb of Washington D.C., might need some Homeland Security, but unarmed men in baseball caps seem like a waste of $3.6 million.

In other porn news, Utah is muddling through a couple of bills complicated by constitutional challenges. One punishes retailers for selling violent games to children with the same penalty they'd receive for selling obscenity to minors, with an exemption for historical war games. Another is to repeal the part of a law passed last year that required any adult content hosted or created in Utah to be rated for its appropriateness for minors by the content providers, and then internet service providers to put free filters on such material at users' request. As the Utah Daily Herald noted at the time of that law's passage last year, it managed to be both nearly useless (what percentage of online pornography is hosted or created in Utah?) and probably unconstitutional (content providers might voluntarily rate themselves to avoid regulation, as other infotainment industries have done, but the legislature should not force them to do so under threat of criminal penalty).

February 17, 2006 5:37 PM | TrackBack

I have to admit, it would be odd to be sitting at a library computer next to someone who was watching streaming video of BarelyLegal or SlapMeBaby or Jizzlers.com, and I'm a guy. I suspect that that would be an even more uncomfortable situation for a woman (imagine, too, that he has a sweater in his lap and looks over at you now and then). I know the First Amendment allows him to do this, but I don't think it's as laughable an issue as it's being made out to be.

Posted by: Tom T. at February 17, 2006 8:07 PM
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