February 17, 2018

“Homeland Security” Officers Overreach at MD Library; Policing Porn

By LJ Staff

Montgomery County, MD, has long had a security force that periodically patrols the public buildings, including libraries, and since July 2005 that unarmed security force has been part of the county’s Homeland Security Department. Two officers, wearing baseball caps announcing "Homeland Security," decided on February 9 to enforce their own version of the “tap on the shoulder” technique at the Little Falls branch of the Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL), in Bethesda just outside of Washington, DC. The men noticed three adults viewing what the officers identified as pornography, MCPL’s Kay Ecelbarger told LJ, referring to an incident report, and one told them to stop what they were doing, in a voice loud enough to be overhead. The justification: it was a violation of the county’s sexual harassment policy, which the Post noted forbids the “display of offensive or obscene printed or visual material.” The library manager intervened to say the guards’ action was inappropriate, said Ecelbarger, the library’s head of collection management, and eventually a police officer arrived.

The security officers left the library. County Executive Douglas M. Duncan called the actions of the officers “highly inappropriate, unauthorized, and in violation of County policy.” Security officers will get additional training. The library does not filter adult use of the Internet but does provide privacy screens, though Ecelbarger says it’s not clear that privacy screens were being used. The library policy states that “customers are expected to be considerate of others when viewing Internet materials” and that “staff will intervene to ensure compliance with State law” that requires libraries should prevent minors from accessing obscenity and child pornography. (Both of those are illegal for adults as well.) The library policy also states: “Under some circumstances, customers may be required to use a privacy screen, so that they can continue to view materials and the Library can comply with State law.”

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