Homeland Security Expands the Scope of Their Duties?

If I were a xenophobic isolationist crackpot, I would be more scared of the Department of Homeland Security than the UN and the “New World Order”.

From the Washington Post:

bq.. Two uniformed men strolled into the main room of the Little Falls library in Bethesda one day last week and demanded the attention of all patrons using the computers. Then they made their announcement: The viewing of Internet pornography was forbidden.

The men looked stern and wore baseball caps emblazoned with the words “Homeland Security.” The bizarre scene unfolded Feb. 9, leaving some residents confused and forcing county officials to explain how employees assigned to protect county buildings against terrorists came to see it as their job to police the viewing of pornography.

After the two men made their announcement, one of them challenged an Internet user’s choice of viewing material and asked him to step outside, according to a witness. A librarian intervened, and the two men went into the library’s work area to discuss the matter. A police officer arrived. In the end, no one had to step outside except the uniformed men.

They were 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.

About Kevin

Kevin Jarnot is a technologist who lives just South of Boston, MA. He is currently employed as Chief Technology Officer at DebtX, a financial services technology company based in Boston.
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0 Responses to Homeland Security Expands the Scope of Their Duties?

  1. Hans Bader says:

    As much as one might desire it, there’s no exception to sexual harassment law for libraries.

    The courts have occasionally held that the First Amendment trumps sexual harassment law.
    Church theological/sexual discussions (Bryce v. Episcopal Church), for example.
    And in the context of university speech codes as applied to students (UWM Post case).

    But they have, perhaps wrongly, not given public libraries any special protection.
    Library funding can be conditioned on filtering (U.S. v. American Library Ass’n).
    And sexually-explicit speech often can be restricted on gov’t property (Urofsky v. Gilmore).

    So this case is legally a gray area, contrary to what the Washington Post article claims.

    Indeed, if the library restricted access to net porn, it would likely win.
    Any First Amendment lawsuit would probably lose under the A.L.A. and Urofsky cases.

    Moreover, the EEOC once awarded damages for harassment against a midwestern library.
    Its sin was to not shut down access on its computers to porn.
    The librarians claimed this created a hostile environment for them.

    (They also claimed other things, too.
    But the EEOC relied heavily on what was on the library’s computers.
    And under NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware (1982),
    a damage award can’t be based even partly on speech).

    (I believe that the EEOC’s action was dubious as a matter of legal logic, because the computer porn was not aimed at the librarians based on their sex. Some federal appeals courts require that harassment be directed at a plaintiff on account of her sex to be actionable, not just be sexually offensive. See, e.g., Scusa v. Nestle USA (1998). After all, federal civil rights statutes only reach discrimination, not vulgarity as such. But I have never met a “diversity trainer” or self-proclaimed “sexual harassment” expert who agreed with me on that point. Such people invariably think that the fact that speech is sexual in content somehow makes it sexist, even though such speech could easily be equally offensive to both genders. The EEOC seems to think that too, although many federal judges do not).

    I don’t think the library should be liable for harassment for not censoring its computers. But if it were sued for harassment, and the porn on its computers were pervasive, then it is conceivable that it would lose.

  2. Kevin says:

    Hans – maybe so, but what does any of that have to do with *Homeland Security*?

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