Is it legal for people to watch porn in libraries?

Are people allowed to access porn sites at local libraries? The answer might surprise you.

PHOENIX – Accessing and viewing pornography in libraries is not against the law, according to Dan Barr, a First Amendment attorney with Perkins Coie, a Phoenix-area law firm.

"Nobody wants to expose children to pornography,” said Barr, clarifying it’s a legal issue of freedom of speech and the protection of children.

The research for this story stems from an investigative report from our fellow NBC station in Los Angeles which revealed people were searching for porn at public libraries in the area, often near young children.

"What librarians would say is, 'We're offering the world to you, and whatever your interest, we want to be a portal for you to explore that interest,” Barr said.

In the interest of the protecting children, the Children's Internet Protection Act passed in 2000.

It forced libraries that use federal funds to block explicit material on their computers, especially if children have access.

But 17 years after the passing of the law, the internet has evolved, and there's a problem.

"[The filters block] National Geographic, they filter out YouTube, access to Planned Parenthood or WebMD,” said Barr.

The American Library Association described the law as “over-filtering that blocks access to legitimate, educational resources while often failing to block the images proscribed by the law.”

But the law is still in place.

Barr said this leaves some people, particularly those who only access the internet at a library, in the dark.

"Potentially you're putting lower-income children and lower-income people at a disadvantage in that they have access to less information than high-income people,” he said.

To be clear, not everything is fair game at the library.

"Obscenity is not protected speech,” Barr said, thought “obscene” is often tough to describe.

Child pornography is a clear example of what is not allowed in libraries, simply because its creation and existence are illegal.

But 18-and-over, and presumably consensual, documentation of sexual activity (such as porn) is not illegal.

And we verified, its access at a public library is not inherently illegal either.

"Pornography … for the most part, it is protected speech,” Barr said.

So, the answer is -- technically, yes you can view porn at some libraries in Arizona.

"One man's perversion is another man's poetry,” Barr said.

A spokesperson from the Maricopa County Library District said the libraries in the county do have internet filters.

They also have a review panel to determine if material should be added or removed -- physical, digital or otherwise.

And they don't offer any X-rated or NC-17 rated films.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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