Improving Cyberspace Essay, Research Paper
Honors English III
26 February 1996
Thesis: Though governments cannot physically regulate the
Internet, cyberspace needs regulations to prevent
illegal activity, the destruction of morals, and child
access to pornography.
II. Illegal activity online costs America millions and hurts
A. It is impossible for our government to physically
1. One government cannot regulate the Internet by
2. The basic design of the Internet prohibits
B. It is possible for America to censor the Internet.
1. All sites in America receive their address from
2. The government could destroy the address for
3. Existing federal laws regulate BBS’s from
III. Censoring the Internet would establish moral standards.
A. Pornography online is more harsh than any other
1. The material out there is highly perverse and
2. Some is not only illegal, but focuses on
B. Many industries face problems from illegal activity
1. Floods of copyrighted material are illegally
2. Innocent fans face problems for being good fans.
IV. Online pornography is easily and illegally accessible
A. In Michigan, anyone can access anything in
cyberspace for free.
1. Mich-Net offers most of Michigan access with a
2. The new Communications Decency Act could
B. BBS’s offer callers access to adult material
1. Most BBS operators don’t require proof of age.
2. Calls to BBS’s are undetectable to a child’s
“People don’t inadvertently tune into alt.sex.pedophile while driving to a
Sunday picnic with Aunt Gwendolyn” (Huber). For some reason, many people
believe this philosophy and therefore think the Internet and other online areas
should not be subject to censorship. The truth is, however, that computerized
networks like the Internet are in desperate need of regulations. People can say,
do, or create anything they wish, and as America has proved in the past, this
type of situation just doesn’t work. Though governments cannot physically
regulate the Internet, cyberspace needs regulations to prevent illegal activity,
the destruction of morals, and child access to pornography.
First, censoring the online community would ease the tension on the computer
software industry. Since the creation of the first computer networks, people
have been exchanging data back and forth, but eventually people stopped
transferring text, and started sending binaries, otherwise known as computer
programs. Users like the idea; why would someone buy two software packages when
they could buy one and trade for a copy of another with a friend? This
philosophy has cost the computer industry millions, and companies like Microsoft
have simply given up. Laws exist against exchanging computer software;
violators face up to a $200,000 fine and/or five years imprisonment, but these
laws are simply unenforced. Most businesses are violators as well. Software
companies require that every computer that uses one of their packages has a
separate license for that software purchased, yet companies rarely purchase
their required minimum. All these illegal copies cost computer companies
millions in profits, hurting the company, and eventually hurting the American
On the other hand, many people believe that the government cannot censor the
Internet. They argue that the Internet is an international network and that one
government should not have the power to censor another nation’s
telecommunications. For example, American censors can block violence on
American television, but they cannot touch Japanese television. The Internet is
open to all nations, and one nation cannot appoint itself police of the Internet.
Others argue that the design of the Internet prohibits censorship. A different
site runs every page on the Internet, and usually the location of the site is
undetectable. If censors cannot find the site, they can’t shut it down. Most
critics believe that America cannot possibly censor the Internet.
Indeed, the American government can censor the Internet. Currently, the National
Science Federation administers all internet addresses, such as web addresses.
The organization could employ censors, who would check every American site
monthly. Any site the censors find with illegal material could immediately lose
their address, thus shutting down the site. Some might complain about cost, but
if the government raised the annual price to hold an address from a modest $50
to say $500, they could easily afford to pay for the censors. This would not
present a problem, because mostly businesses own addresses; it would not effect
use by normal people. For example, microsoft.com is the address for Microsoft,
but addresses like crandall.com just do not exist.Bulletin Board Systems (BBS’s)
are another computer media in need of censorship. Like the Internet, some spots
contain hard core pornography, yet some have good content. Operators usually
orient their BBS’s for the local community, but some operators open their system
to users across the world. The government can shut down a BBS if it transfers
illegal material across a state border according to federal law. As a postal
worker in Tennessee showed, shutting down a BBS with illegal pornography is an
easy process. When he called a BBS in California and found illegal child
pornography, he called his local police. Two days later the police had closed
the BBS and Robert Thomas was awaiting prosecuting in a Tennessee jail (Elmer-
Dewitt). If the government were to employ censors like that postal worker,
thousands of BBS’s transmitting illegal material across state borders could be
shut down immediately.
Secondly, censoring cyberspace would help establish moral standards. According
to a local survey, 83% of adults online have downloaded pornographic material
from a BBS. 47% of minors online have downloaded pornographic material from a
local BBS (Crandall). In another world wide survey, only 22% of 571 responders
thought the Internet needed regulation to prevent minors from obtaining adult
material (C|Net). Obviously, something is wrong with America’s morals. A child
cannot walk into a video store and walk out with X-rated movies. A minor cannot
walk out of a bookstore with a copy of Playboy. Why can children sit in the
privacy of their home and look at pornographic material and we do nothing about
it? It is time America does something to establish moral standards.
Certainly, people accepted the fact that pornography exists many years ago. In
addition, however, they set limits as to how far pornography could go, yet
cyberspace somehow snuck past these limits. Just after the vote on the Exon
bill, Senator Exon said “I knew it was bad, but when I got out of there, it made
Playboy and Hustler look like Sunday-School stuff” (Elmer-Dewitt). He was
talking about the folder of images from the Internet he received to show the
Senate just before the vote. An hour later, the vote had passed 84 to 16.
Demand drives the market, it focuses on images people can’t find in a magazine
or video. Images of “pedophilia (nude photos of children), hebephilia (youths)
and what experts call paraphilia — a grab bag of ‘deviant’ material that
includes images of bondage, sadomasochism, urination, defecation, and sex acts
with a barnyard full of animals” (Elmer-Dewitt) floods cyberspace. Some wonder
how much of this is available, a Carnegie Mellon study released last June showed
that the Internet transmitted 917,410 sexually explicit pictures, films, or
short stories over the 18 months of the study. Over 83% of all pictures posted
on USENET, the public message center of the Internet, were pornographic (Elmer-
Dewitt). What happened to our Information Superhighway, is this what we are
fighting to put into our schools?
Furthermore, illegal material other than pornography is making its way online.
When companies such as Paramount and FOX realized they were loosing money
because they were not online, they took action. They realized that people make
money online just like they do on television. Several people make fan pages
with sound and video clips of their favorite television programs. When
companies heard of this, they wanted to do it themselves, and sell advertising
positions on their pages like with television. Now these companies are pushing
for court orders to shut down these fan pages due to copyright infringement
(Heyman 78). If someone censored these pages for copyrighted material in the
first place, neither the company nor the owner of the page would waste time and
money in these legal matters. Now, the company can sue the owner of the page
for copyright infringement. All this because some Star Trek fan wanted to share
some sound clips with other fans.
Most important, online pornography is easily accessible to minors. What are
parents to do, usually it is the child in the family who is computer literate.
If the child was accessing pornographic material with computers, odds are the
parents would never know. Even if the parents are computer literate, children
can find it, even without looking for it. When 10 year old Anders Urmachen of
New York City hangs out with other kids in America On Line’s Treehouse chat room,
he has good clean fun. One day, however, when he received a message in e-mail
with a file and instructions on how to download it, he did. When he opened the
file, 10 clips of couples engaged in heterosexual intercourse appeared on the
screen. He called his mother who said, “I was not aware this stuff was online,
children should not be subject to these images” (Elmer-Dewitt). Poor Anders
Urmachen didn’t go looking for pornography, it snuck up on him, and as long as
America allows it to happen, parents are going to have to accept the chance that
their children may run into that stuff.
In addition, for several years the people of Michigan have enjoyed access to the
Internet through the state funded program called Mich-Net. The program offers
the public free access to the Internet, along with schools throughout the state.
On the other hand, the Mich-Net program has one flaw. The program gives
anonymity, allowing anyone, of any age, to access anything on the Internet.
According to the new Communications Decency Act, which Clinton signed into law
February 8, 1996, the government could terminate the entire Mich-Net program
because a minor can access pornography through it. This would be a huge loss to
the state of Michigan and it’s schools. If we were to censor the Internet,
minors wouldn’t be able to access the material, and the program would have no
Furthermore, BBS’s offer minors adult material at no cost. While some BBS’s that
only offer adult material to adults, others make access very simple. Some
simply say “Type YES if you are over 18.” This is simply unexplainable and
unacceptable. Others require a photo copy of a driver license showing the user
is over 18, and other operators even require meeting their users. If all it
takes to access adult material is hitting three keys, what is stopping children
from it. Most young children do not have the ability to decide where they
should go and where they should not. If it is available, they are going to want
to see what it is. To extend the problem further, these BBS’s are usually
undetectable to a child’s parents. Most BBS’s are local phone calls, and are
free; the parents will never know if the child is accessing it. For example,
the Muskegon area has about 15 BBS’s running 24 hours daily. Of these 15, about
five operators devote their BBS to adult material. Of these five, only one BBS
requires that the user meet the operator before receiving access, while three of
the boards simply ask for a photo copy of a drivers license. But that last one
has no security whatsoever, and anyone can access anything. None of the five
boards charge for access. This is simply unacceptable, we cannot let children
access adult material in this manner.
Every day thousands of children tune into sex in cyberspace. We do not subject
our children to sex on television or other medias, and even if we do, parents
have ways to block it. Yet we allowed computers to slip through the grips of
parents. Censoring the online community will also strengthen the computer
industry and eventually our economy. The longer we wait, the more we hurt
ourselves; let’s regulate cyberspace before it is too late.
C|Net. Survey Internet: 29 July 1995. Crandall, Jason. Survey Muskegon,
Michigan: 29 Jan. 1996. Elmer-Dewitt, Philip. “On a Screen Near You:
3 July 1995: Proquest. Heyman, Karen. “War on the Web.” Net Guide Feb. 1996:
76-80. Huber, Peter. “Electronic Smut.” Forbes 31 July 1995: 110.