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Does The Goverment Has The Right To

Censor The Internet? Essay, Research Paper Subject:Computer Science Titile:Does The Government Have The Right To Censor The Internet? The Internet is a method of communication and a source of information

Censor The Internet? Essay, Research Paper

Subject:Computer Science

Titile:Does The Government Have The Right To Censor The Internet?

The Internet is a method of communication and a source of information

that is becoming popular among those who are interested in the

information superhighway. The problem with this world we know as

Cyberspace, the ‘Net, or the Web is that some of this information,

including pornographical material and hate literature, is being

accessible to minors.

Did you know that 83.5% of the images available on the Internet are

pornographical? Did you know that the Internet’s pornography and hate

literature are available to curious children that happen to bump into

them?

One of the drawing features of the young Internet was its freedom. It’s

“…a rare example of a true, modern, functional anarchy…there are no

official censors, no bosses, no board of directors, no stockholders”

(Sterling). It’s an open forum where anyone can say anything, and the

only thing holding them back is their own conscience.

This lawless atmosphere bothered many people, including Nebraska Senator

James Exon. Exon

proposed in July, 1994 that an amendment be added to the

Telecommunications Reform Bill to regulate content on the Internet. His

proposal was rejected at the time, but after persistence and increased

support, his proposal evolved into the Communications Decency Act (CDA),

part of the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act The Internet has changed

the world by creating advertising, information, and businesses. However,

there are the few bad apples in the Internet that have information,

literature, graphics and images that have been deemed inappropriate for

minors. Therefore, many people feel the Internet should be censored by

the Government. The Government owns and operates the Internet and its

agencies are responsible for what is on the Internet. However, for the

parents with minors that are concerned about what their kids see- they

should go out and get software to censor the Internet. Don’t ruin

everyone else’s fun. Why should I have to be a peasant of the Government

tyranny over the Internet? The people that worry about their kids and

make the Government worry about it and pass legislation on censorship

are the people that are too damn lazy to buy Internet Censorship

software programs for their PERSONAL computers, NOT the entire United

States’. The Government wants censorship, but a segment of the

Internet’s population does not.

The Communications Decency Act is an amendment which prevents the

information superhighway from becoming a computer “red light district.”

Thursday, February 1, 1996, was known as “Black Thursday” on the

Internet

when Congress passed (House 414-9, Senate 91-5) into legislation the

Telecommunication Reform Bill, and attached to it the Communications

Decency Act. It was then signed into law by President Clinton one week

later on Thursday, February 8, 1996 known as the “Day of Protest” when

the Internet simultaneously went black from hundreds of thousands of

Internet citizens turning their web pages black in protest of the

Communications Decency Act.

The Communications Decency Act which is supposed to protect minors from

accessing controversial or sexually explicit material, outlaws

“obscene…”, which already is a crime, and therefore the CDA is not

needed, but also “…lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent”, and even

“annoying” “… comment[s], request[s], suggestion[s], proposal[s],

image[s], or other communication “using a “…telecommunications device”

all of which are protected by the First Amendment and therefore cannot

be banned.

The Act is also unconstitutional because it does not follow the Supreme

Court’s decision in Sable Communications Vs. FCC. requiring that

restrictions on speech use the “least restrictive means” possible. The

Court also stated that restrictions on indecency cannot have the effect

of “reduc[ing] the adult population to only what is fit for children.”

We start with the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996, a

controversial piece of legislation signed into law by President Clinton

on February 8, 1996, and now under legal challenge by the American Civil

Liberties Union and others. The Communications Decency Act bans the

communication of “obscene or indecent” material via the Internet to

anyone under 18 years of age. (Telecommunications Act of 1996, Section

502, 47 U.S.C. Section 223[a].)

We all know that this new law resulted from a complex meshing of

political forces in an election year during which family values will

continue widely to be extolled. But, is this part of the new federal law

legal? All of us have heard of the First Amendment to the United States

Constitution. It states in pertinent part that “Congress shall make no

law. . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . .” If those words are to

be read literally, then the knee-jerk answer would be that this new law

is illegal. But, the First Amendment, while historically read fairly

broadly, has never been interpreted literally. Even Thomas Jefferson,

when he served as President, tried to prosecute conduct that he viewed

as seditious speech. The U.S. Supreme Court also consistently has ruled

that pornography and obscenity fall outside the First Amendment, along

with a variety of other seeming “speech.”

At the same time, adult conduct which includes sexually oriented conduct

that some (perhaps even arguably a majority) might consider immoral has

been considered protected by the First Amendment when it takes place in

a private setting. Perhaps the outmost reach of that theory of

constitutional “privacy” manifested itself in “Roe v. Wade” and the

right to an abortion (itself now a controversial proposition). Surely,

though, it can be said, Internet surfers who find “indecent” material

(whatever that is) as a result of their inquiries from home (or the

office) fall well within the outer reach that Roe demarcated? Or is that

true?

Then, we come to the question of “children,” the stated objective of the

new Congressional ban. Anyone who watches the news or reads newspapers

knows that the courts frequently hold that government can legitimately

try to protect the well-being of children. At the same time, how parents

rear their children has generally been left to the parents, although

perhaps because of publicized parental lapses more governmental activism

seems to exist in that arena too. But it seems fair to say that few

parents, irrespective of their political or religious views, would agree

that the federal government should intercede in how they raise their own

children. In general, parents have access to a wider variety of Internet

access controls than controls over cable television or the movies.

Additionally, most children who live in environments in which their

parent slack access to Internet protection likely also lack the

resources to acquire computer technology and Internet access. Is

Congress intruding into the parental sphere in banning “indecent”

Internet communications?

Proceeding further, the courts have generally given the federal

government wide latitude to control what can be said or shown over the

commercial television “airways.” We have all probably heard of the FCC’s

ban of “indecent” speech and the “seven dirty words” of George Carlin or

the antics of Howard Stern. But, the commercial television airwaves flow

almost inexorably into everyone’s home, with little more effort than the

flick of a dial. The Internet is something that most of us must buy

access to and which we then choose to surf on our own. And does the

government really have the right to tell parents what books and

magazines they can let their children read at home or what television

programs or motion pictures they should let their children watch?

If the answer is, “yes,” then how much stretching does it take to extend

government control so as to encompass notions of social or philosophical

or religious tutelage?

A complex legal and societal problem indeed! To recap, if the Internet

is akin to commercial network television and if the government can

constitutionally restrict the menu of offerings there, then why not the

Internet? But, the Internet is different, in lots of ways. And, what

does “indecent” mean anyway? “Pornography” and “obscenity” are difficult

enough concepts in their own right. Justice Potter Stewart of the United

States Supreme Court wrote in 1964: “perhaps I could never succeed in

intelligibly” explaining what it is. “But I know it when I see it”.

“Indecent,” whatever that means (Congress itself did not define the

term) must surely be something less offensive than “obscenity.” Is it

just, fair or even wise to penalize someone from making available

information which some would label “indecent” but which few of us can

even define?

These are among the issues that the courts must decide in ruling on the

legality of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Only time will tell

the outcome. At least, though, the courts are not quite as immediately

influenced by current political trends as legislators and their final

decisions may be less emotionally passionate and more deliberative.

We have the technology today to filter access to users on interactive

media. One simple way to is to put information in the header describing

the information that is contained in the transmission. There would be

standards for how the information would be described. The application

used to receive the transmission can be set to screen the unwanted

transmission based on the information in the header. The settings can

be protected by passwords. Using this technology the user would

exercise control of the information available on interactive media

instead of the government or network operators.

The CDA criminalizes “knowingly transmit[ing] or mak[ing] available”

information on interactive media that can be accessed just as easily by

wondering the isles of a book store. It also criminalizes “indecent”

speech that is transmitted electronically between two consenting adults.

i.e. Email. The punishment for such a “crime” can be up to 2 years in

prison and/or a

$250,000 fine.

The Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional by banning speech

that is protected by the First Amendment in a medium in which the user

is giving the ability to select what he or she does or does not want to

receive.

THE GOVERNMENT GIVES CITIZENS THE PRIVILEGE OF USING THE INTERNET, BUT

IT HAS NEVER GIVEN THEM THE RIGHT TO USE IT.

If we have a “Constitution” and, supposedly, a “First Amendment”- why is

the Government using legislation to stop us from expressing ourselves?

We seem to be a ironic and paradox country. We didn’t want to be the

first to use nuclear weapons and the atomic bomb, but were the first

and, so far to present day, the last to use them.

References:

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language-Definition of

Censorship:

(May

30, 1997).

A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Censorship-by Robert Atkins:

(May

30, 1997).

Center for Democracy and Technology-Trial bulletin for CIEC’s lawsuit:

(May 30, 1997).

“The Complaint”-CIEC-Current Lawsuit information:

(May 30, 1997).

Net Censorship Crisis: From DC to Cyberspace-By Cate C. Corcoran from

Hotwired:

(May 30, 1997).

Internet Censorship FAQ-By Jonathan Wallace and Mark Mangan:

(May 30, 1997).

Latest Developments on Internet Censorship-EPIC organization:

(May 30, 1997).

Signing Away Free Speech-By Todd Lappin from Wired magazine:

(May 30, 1997).

Jefferson, Thomas. “Bill Of Rights.” from The Constitution of the United

States.

(May 30, 1997).

Sterling, Bruce. “Short History of the Internet.” From The Magazine of

Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1993.

(May

30, 1997).

King, Stephen. “Censorship on the Internet: an interactive essay by

Stephan King” (May

30, 1997).

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